By A. Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAMOnce again, Boston and Orlando prepare to face each other well-positioned among the NBA's top teams.
Still, Monday night's game at TD Garden doesn't seem to have the same sizzle or build-up that we saw for their Christmas Day collision in Florida.
"It's just a regular-season game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "There's history between us and all that stuff. You always want to win. The games don't literally have meaning, but guys get fired up for games like this. Or at least I hope they do."
Certainly the C's are looking for a nice boost of energy from the return of Kevin Garnett, who has missed the last nine games with a muscle strain in his lower right leg.
He was able to make it through Sunday's practice, which may be enough to convince Rivers to play him Monday night.
Garnett's return against the Magic - or any team for that matter - can only help the Celtics' cause.
"The game changes from a communication standpoint, to pick and roll . . . the game changes a lot," said guard Rajon Rondo. "He's definitely a low-post presence as well. We definitely miss him. I wanted him back a couple games ago, but he has to take care of his body and be conscious of the long run. The same thing he told me when I was down, just be smart and try to hold it down as much as possible until he gets back."
Rivers, in typical Rivers fashion, joked about how important Garnett is to the Celtics.
"Kevin's our . . . it's like losing your best defensive player, your best talker and your quarterback. Outside of that," quipped Rivers, "it's not that big a deal."
Garnett's return becomes even more important with another one of Boston's big men, Shaquille O'Neal, potentially out or limited.
He suffered an adductor strain in his right leg that kept him out of Sunday's practice.
Rivers said he'll also be a game-time decision.
The Celtics will need as many big bodies as possible against an Orlando team that was plus-six on the boards during the C's 86-78 Christmas Day loss.
While Boston had good reason to worry about the play of Orlando center Dwight Howard, it was the play of power forward Brandon Bass that gave the Celtics major problems.
Bass finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds.
In addition to Garnett, the C's will also look for a strong game from Glen Davis, who became the starter with Garnett sidelined.
As a starter, Davis' play was up and down.
But as a backup, the 6-foot-8 forward is one of the NBA's top sixth men.
"Each time we get a player back, it makes our bench better," Rivers said.
Bench play will be an important factor in Monday's game.
When the two met on Christmas, Orlando's bench outscored its Boston counterparts, 26-20.
As disappointing as the loss was, the C's were even more disturbed by how it came about.
Despite foul trouble for most of the game, the C's managed to get hot in the third quarter and pulled away for a six-point lead going into the fourth.
However, a jumper by Garnett with 3:21 to play would be the last basket made by the C's.
"We played horrible down the stretch," Rivers said. "That game down there, I don't think either team was proud of how they played. I thought both teams were proud of the way they competed. It was not played very well."