Stevens: ‘Anyone that's available, we're going to play normally'


BOSTON -- Winners in five of their last six games, the Boston Celtics are on the cusp of locking up home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.

But Celtics head coach Brad Stevens isn’t leaving anything to chance which is why he will stick to playing his usual cast of players tonight against Orlando as opposed to giving some key players the night off.

“Anyone that’s available, we’re going to play normally,” Stevens said. “Obviously we don’t have anything sewn up from a seedings standpoint yet. So, our plan of attack is to be the best that we can be tonight and go from there.”

Boston will have to be that against an Orlando team that has already beaten the Celtics twice this season, and comes into tonight’s game currently sixth in the East with wins in eight of their last 10 games.

“They’re a really good team, a really well-coached team,” said Stevens who later added, “That team looks like a hungry team that’s, for a long time has been on the cusp of kind of breaking into the playoffs.”

If the Magic (40-40) are playoff-bound this season, it would be the first time they are on to the postseason since 2012 when they lost in the first round to the Indiana Pacers in five games.

“They’ve just been connected, playing together, doing what they do best,” Stevens said.

Stevens points to Orlando All-Star Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and key reserve Terrence Ross as being some of the key performers in Orlando’s ascension recently.

“On down the line, everybody has contributed well and really gotten better as the season has gone on,” Stevens said. “And I thought they had a team that was kind of poised for this, too.”

As for his Celtics, they haven’t been too shabby of late either.

Gordon Hayward, one of the keys to Boston’s recent surge of success, hopes to continue the strong play in these last couple of regular season games with the goal being for it to spill into the playoffs.

“We have to be good defensively first and foremost,” Hayward said. “So making sure we know their tendencies, executing our game plan so everybody is on the same page; transition defense is huge. It starts with us defensively.”

And that Celtics defense, while ranked among the NBA’s leaders for most of this season, has seen its share of slippage the past couple of months.

The month of April has thus far been a small sample size, it’s clear that Boston wants to desperately get back to its defense-first approach to the game and rely less on outscoring teams and more on shutting them down.

This season, Boston has a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 104.9 which ranks sixth in the NBA.

But since the All-Star break, Boston’s defensive rating has been 108.4 which ranks 14th in the NBA in that span, a stark contrast to their defense prior to the break when the team’s defensive rating of 103.6 ranked fourth in the league.

It is the kind of play that shows the direction the team is heading in now which bodes well for their chances of making the kind of deep playoff run which could include locking up home court advantage with a win tonight over the Magic.

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