A potential first round playoff preview is on tap for Beantown tonight when the Boston Celtics play host to the Orlando Magic.
The Celtics missed out on a chance to clinch their fifth straight Atlantic Division title on Tuesday, losing 118-110 to second place New York at Madison Square Garden.
Paul Pierce scored a season-high 43 points for Boston in that one while Kevin Garnett had 20, Avery Bradley 17 and Rajon Rondo finished with 13 points and 13 assists. The C's, however, just couldn't defend the three-point line, allowing New York to shoot 19-of-32 from distance.
"I just got into a little groove, but it wasn't enough," said Pierce. "I'd rather win and not play well."
Rondo has now handed out 10-plus assists in 23 straight games, the longest such streak since John Stockton posted 29 straight games from Jan. 25-March 30, 1992.
Despite the setback the Celtics still hold a more than comfortable 3 1/2-game lead over the Knicks with just four games left and can clinch the division tonight with a win and a New York loss at New Jersey.
Since Boston is four games behind Indiana for the No. 3 seed in the East, the Celtics will likely begin the playoffs as the fourth seed and face either the Magic or Hawks, who are currently deadlocked for the fifth spot, in the quarterfinals.
The Magic used six double-digit scorers in the absence of Dwight Howard and Glen Davis in their last outing to down the Philadelphia 76ers, 113-100 at Amway Center on Monday.
Despite the absence of their injured starting and backup centers, the Magic shot 53 percent against the league's best scoring defense and grabbed 16 more rebounds, with Ryan Anderson's 26 points and 16 boards leading the way.
"We said going into the game that rebounding the ball was going to be key, and we didn't do it," 76ers head coach Doug Collins said.
Jameer Nelson totaled 16 points and 13 assists, while Earl Clark, seeing more minutes in Orlando's depleted frontcourt, tied a career-high with 14 points and grabbed a personal-best 11 rebounds.
"Now that a couple of guys are down, I've been given a chance. I just want to make the most of it," Clark said.
Daniel Orton made his first career start at center for the Magic and totaled six points and six rebounds in 23-plus minutes. J.J. Redick and Quentin Richardson rounded out Orlando's high scorers with 18 and 13 points, respectively.
On the injury front, veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen is sidelined for Boston with a sore right ankle while the Magic are preparing for life without Howard, who is dealing with a herniated disk in his back, in the postseason.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy acknowledged earlier this week that he's resigned to playing the rest of the regular season and playoffs without his All-Star center as well as forward Hedo Turkoglu, who is sidelined with a facial fracture. Davis is day-to-day with a hyperextended right knee.
Orlando lost to Boston twice, four days apart early in the season, including an embarrassing 87-56 setback in Beantown on Jan. 23 in which it amassed a franchise low in points scored.