Not hit­ting panic but­ton

With play­offs still in sight, Magic pre­pare for Celtics, Rock­ets back-to-back

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By Roy Parry

As the Or­lando Magic move be­yond their half­way point of an 82-game reg­u­lar sea­son, they re­main up­beat and con­fi­dent the wins will start over­tak­ing the losses.

The week­end cer­tainly will pro­vide a good test.

The Magic play game No. 42 Sat­ur­day at 7 p.m. at Amway Cen­ter against the surg­ing Bos­ton Celtics, a team that came within a victory of reach­ing the NBA Fi­nals last sea­son.

It’s the first game of a back-to-back at home as the Magic will turn around and face James Har­den, the NBA’s lead­ing scorer, and the Hous­ton Rock­ets on Sun­day at 6 p.m.

Both games can be seen on Fox Sports Florida.

“Again, we’ve shown that when we’re right we’re very good and we can beat any­body, and to me this is a good op­por­tu­nity to do that,” said Magic coach Steve Clif­ford.

While their re­cent 1-5 road trip, which cov­ered 11 days, dropped them to 17-24 over­all, the Magic refuse to hit the panic but­ton. They sit just 2.5 games be­hind Char­lotte for the eighth — and fi­nal — play­off spot in the Eastern Con­fer­ence.

“There was no mes­sage to­day other than, like I said, we’re two-and-a-half out, so re­gard­less of what hap­pened let’s look

for­ward and get back to play­ing the way we were be­fore,” Clif­ford said. “It starts with ob­vi­ously want­ing to win, which I be­lieve these guys badly want to win. I’m not con­cerned about that.

“Then it’s about hav­ing the right men­tal prepa­ra­tion, so you have the right in­ten­sity and the right con­cen­tra­tion. But then — and I know it sounds sim­ple but — it’s what this league is all about; you have to play well.”

As cen­ter Nikola Vuce­vic points out, the win-loss record can flip in a short pe­riod of time.

“As bad as it looks, things can turn around very quickly for us,” he said. “It’s go­ing to be a very tough week­end. Ob­vi­ously we have two great teams com­ing in, but if we’re able to get a game or two the next two games it will be huge for us.

“There’s still a lot of bas­ket­ball to be played.”

Bos­ton is com­ing off a 115-99 loss in Mi­ami on Thurs­day that snapped a four-game win­ning streak and ended a stretch of 22 games with at least 100 points.

Still, the Celtics (26-15) are 7-3 in their past 10 games, in­clud­ing a 135-108 win against the Pac­ers on Wed­nes­day, and present chal­lenges for any op­pos­ing de­fense. Six play­ers av­er­age in dou­ble fig­ures, led by All-Star guard Kyrie Irv­ing. He’s av­er­ag­ing a team-best 22.6 points and 6.4 as­sists a game and shoot­ing 49 per­cent from the field.

Sec­ond-year for­ward Jayson Ta­tum (16.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) con­tin­ues to show­case his ath­leti­cism while Mar­cus Morris (15.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Al Hor­ford (11.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) so­lid­ify the mid­dle for the Celtics.

“Their pur­pose of play is so much bet­ter than it was early in the year,” Clif­ford said of the Celtics. “They’re get­ting used to play­ing to­gether.”

The Magic will look to draw from their pre­vi­ous meet­ing against the Celtics — a 93-90 win in Bos­ton in Oc­to­ber.

“To win in that build­ing was re­ally good,” said Clif­ford. “Our de­fense in that game was so good, and we had some good plays late.”

The Magic de­fense will be tested again Sun­day by Har­den and the Rock­ets. The reign­ing league MVP is av­er­ag­ing 33.9 points a game and has av­er­aged 40 his past 10 games. He en­tered Fri­day’s game with the Cava­liers hav­ing scored at least 30 points in 14 straight games.

Cen­ter Clint Capela is av­er­ag­ing 17.6 points and 12.9 re­bounds a game, in­clud­ing 5.1 per game on the of­fen­sive end.

For­mer Win­ter Park High guard Austin Rivers is av­er­ag­ing 12.3 points since be­ing signed by the Rock­ets in late De­cem­ber af­ter he was waived by the Suns.

Since a three-game los­ing streak in early De­cem­ber, the Rock­ets — who are play­ing with­out in­jured point guard Chris Paul — have posted a 12-3 mark.

The Magic likely will face the Celtics and the Rock­ets with­out rookie cen­ter Mo­hamed Bamba. He in­jured his left foot Mon­day against the Kings, then missed Wed­nes­day’s game in Utah. Clif­ford said an MRI on Thurs­day re­vealed “no struc­tural dam­age,” but Bamba did not par­tic­i­pate in prac­tice on Fri­day.

“He [Bamba] said it was pretty sore this morn­ing,” Clif­ford said.

Clif­ford said he hopes Bamba will be ready for next Wed­nes­day’s game in Detroit.

Khem Birch will con­tinue to see the backup min­utes at cen­ter with Bamba side­lined.

JA­SON E. MICZEK/AP

Magic cen­ter Nikola Vuce­vic said beat­ing the Celtics or the Rock­ets will “be huge for us,” es­pe­cially af­ter a 1-5 road trip.

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