[eastern conference finals]
Eastern Conference finals preview, Celtics vs. Magic
Why the Magic can win: Orlando is the NBA's hottest team, having gone 43 days without losing a game. It has won 14 in a row and run roughshod through the postseason, winning all eight of its games against Charlotte and Atlanta. Not only have the defending Eastern Conference champions been the best offensive team (scoring 116 points per 100 possessions), it is also best defensive team (holding opponents to just 94.6 points per 100 possessions). The Magic is coming off the most dominant four-game sweep in NBA history, as it eviscerated the Hawks by an average of 25.3 points per game. Orlando has been incredibly balanced, with five different players averaging in double figures in the playoffs. And, in the previous round against Atlanta, it finally got contributions from Dwight Howard and Vince Carter. Howard made an NBA-record 84.4 percent (27 of 32) of his shots and Carter averaged 18.3 points, including 22 in the close-out game. The Magic went 3-1 against Boston this season.
Why the Celtics can win: After upsetting top-seeded Cleveland in six games, Kevin Garnett said, "One thing we don't lack, and that's confidence." The champions once-removed have reason to be confident, now that they are 6-0 in playoff series with Garnett in the lineup. After laboring through the regular season, Garnett and the Celtics have found themselves in the postseason. Garnett appears to finally be healthy and he delivered against the Cavaliers. Having taken out Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Boston has proven that it can handle one-man teams by playing as a team. Howard poses fits for most NBA teams, but he has always struggled against Kendrick Perkins, who has the strength to hold his ground and make it difficult, as he showed in the previous round against Shaquille O'Neal.
Difference maker: Jameer Nelson, Magic, right. Rajon Rondo has been the Celtics' best player this postseason, but he hasn't had to work much defensively against Carlos Arroyo and Mo Williams. Nelson, a former all-star, can put pressure on Rondo and the Celtics' defense with his ability to score and create for his teammates. He is leading the Magic in scoring (20.5 points) and assists (5.3) this postseason.
Bottom line: Magic in six.
-- Michael Lee
Sunday: Boston at Orlando, 3:30
Tuesday: Boston at Orlando, 8:30
Saturday: Orlando at Boston, 8:30
May 24: Orlando at Boston, 8:30
*May 26: Boston at Orlando, 8:30
*May 28: Orlando at Boston, 8:30
*May 30: Boston at Orlando, 8:30
* -- if necessary