Commentary

Celtics faced with revamped Magic

Boston must prepare from scratch for Christmas Day game against Orlando

Updated: December 25, 2010, 1:10 PM ET
By Peter May | ESPNBoston.com

The cachet of playing on network television on Christmas Day, supposedly, is that your mere presence reflects that you are a good team that will draw viewers and interest. That's the thinking, anyway, when the schedule makers emerge from their smoke-filled room in the summer and announce the national TV schedule.

The Boston Celtics have held up their end of the deal. They've won 14 in a row and 23 of their past 27. Their Christmas opponent, the Orlando Magic, have held up their end, as well, but not for the same reasons.

The Magic are 17-12. Before their decisive 123-101 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, they had lost four straight and eight of nine. But they boast a radically restructured roster from the one they had when the schedule came out, and therein lies the intrigue.

[+] EnlargeStan Van Gundy
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesThe Celtics will be facing a very different team when they meet Stan Van Gundy and the Magic on Christmas Day.

Want to see Vince Carter take stupid shots against the suffocating Celtics defense? Sorry. Want to see Rashard Lewis hoist 3-pointers? Ain't gonna happen. Thanks to a couple of megadeals last week, the Magic that the Celtics will face for the first time this season are back in training camp mode, a classic work in progress.

Carter was dealt to the Phoenix Suns along with Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark. Lewis, owner of arguably the worst contract in the NBA (and that is saying something as long as Darko Milicic is in the league) was dealt to Washington for the poster boy of the Second Amendment, Gilbert Arenas.

"It's interesting, that's for sure," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the Magic's changes. "We have to throw away all the scouting reports and do it all over again, so that's no fun. They've added talent, there's no doubt about it. Whether they can get it together, we'll see."

The Magic have been understandably discombobulated since the deal. They lost at home to the Philadelphia 76ers on the day the deals went down. They then were beaten by the Atlanta Hawks in the debut of the new players, and followed that with a home loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Coach Stan Van Gundy -- who, like Rivers, never holds practices after back-to-back games -- broke his rule this week after the Monday-Tuesday losses.

He really had no choice. It marked the first time the team practiced with the new arrivals (although Turkoglu is back for a second stint with Orlando).

"This is a difficult situation for all of them. It really is," Van Gundy said. "People are trying to compare this to a team that makes moves in the offseason. That's BS. Those teams are together in training camp and don't play a game for a month. There's no comparison.

"This is a whole new team, a whole new situation. We've got a long, long way to go over three and half months. I think this is going to be a very good team. I'd like to get it going sooner rather than later, but it's going to take as long as it takes."

The Magic are hoping that by pulling the trigger now -- instead of at the traditional trading deadline in February -- it will give Van Gundy and his staff an additional two months to integrate the new fellows.

Ray Allen, who has been traded both in-season and during the summer over the course of his career, thinks the deals simply could reflect a feeling by management that the roster needed a shakeup.

"It's all about chemistry," Allen said. "Any time you make a trade, you hope your team chemistry is going to be on point. You always ask about a player before you trade for him: What's he like in the locker room? What's his work ethic like? Because they have to fit in with the guys, especially if you're a winning team.

"I thought [the Magic] were still a good team, and they traded three of their main guys and now they don't have a backup center. That's bold."

Turkoglu expressed satisfaction in donning the Magic blue again. He's been a lost soul the past year and a half since leaving Orlando. Richardson is your basic hired gun. Arenas was going nowhere in Washington and said he'd have to go on the treadmill to adjust to the Magic's preferred pace of up-tempo basketball.

"I've got to go back to what I was able to do in my younger days: run, run, run," he said. "I just got to get used to their style of play."

The Magic have prided themselves on being a strong defensive team these past few years, anchored by the menacing Dwight Howard. They still rank among the top 10 defensive teams in terms of points allowed and field goal percentage. That philosophy is not going to change, even though the newcomers are not known for their defensive prowess.

This is a deal for the long term, to make the Magic formidable playoff foes. They had scoring options before the deal. They have more scoring options after the deal, along with a 6-foot-10 playmaker in Turkoglu.

It's a big gamble, but one Orlando felt it had to make. The Magic have the Heat to their south, starting to resemble the dreaded team we all suspected they'd be. They have the Celtics to the north, once again running roughshod over the league in the first two months.

The hope in Orlando is that the Magic, not Miami or Boston, will be on national television when it really matters -- in June.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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