Celtics-Magic preview: A tougher test than you may expect


NBA followers aren't sure what to make of the Orlando Magic’s surprisingly strong start to this season.

However, Celtics coach Brad Stevens isn’t the least bit surprised atvhow well the Magic (6-3) are playing.

Indeed, the Celtics (7-2) are in for what should be a much tougher matchup than most would have anticipated at the start of the season. 

Boston comes into today's game looking to extend its league-best winning streak to eight in a row against an Orlando team that has been arguably the biggest surprise in the East after the first couple weeks of the season. 

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The play of Orlando is reminiscent of what Stevens remembers from the last time the Celtics faced the Magic on March 31.

After having blown out the Magic in their earlier meetings last season, the Celtics found themselves in quite the nail-biter before ultimately coming away with a 117-116 win behind Isaiah Thomas' game-high 35 points. 

Not only were most of the starters from that game back with Orlando this year, but the style of play that they implemented at that time which gave Boston problems, is similar to what’s working for the Magic right now.

“They had us beat in the Garden,” Stevens told NBC Sports Boston. “We ended up winning by a point. They started the lineup that they start now. And it’s fast; it’s skilled.”

Among the early season standouts for the Magic has been Aaron Gordon, a player who was among the handful of players on the Celtics’ radar in the 2014 draft.

The fourth-year wing is averaging career highs in just about every statistical category, including points (19.3 per game), rebounds (8.4) and assists (2.3).

But the statistic that has everyone doing a double-take is Gordon connecting on 58.1 percent of his 3-pointers this season.

“Gordon is shooting the ball ridiculously well from the four (power forward) and they’re really spreading (Nikola) Vucevic out to play a role like Al (Horford) plays for us,” Stevens said.

Horford, who is shooting a career-best 46.7 percent from 3-point range, has steadily improved his long-range shooting from the center position.

Vucevic began to make strides along those lines last year when he took 75 three-pointers after having taken just 26 total in his first five seasons.

The 7-foot center has already taken 38 three-pointers in just nine games this season, and is shooting 42.1 percent from 3-point range.

Young breakout players. A center who shoots 3’s. A team that’s off to a fast start which has exceeded the expectations of many.

Sound familiar?

“There’s a lot of similarities in how we both try to play,” Stevens said. “And they’ve done an unbelievable job starting out the gates. It’s going to be a tough game.”


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