Celtics fans prepared themselves for the worst after Gordon Hayward was lost for the season and the team started 0–2. Their expectations fell from an Eastern Conference Championship to a middling playoff team; yet, nearly three weeks into the season, the gap between the Celtics and the rest of the Eastern Conference is bigger than anyone would have imagined before the season even started.
Since that 0–2 start, Boston has won seven in a row, including wins in Philly, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City and a home win over the Spurs. Not just that, but Brad Stevens’ team has covered all seven. Boston is on the road in Orlando for an early evening matchup with the Magic and you’ve got to lay three if you want a piece of the hottest team in the NBA.
The Celtics’ new pieces have fit seamlessly into Brad Stevens’ game plan and I’m not just talking about Kyrie Irving. There’s Jayson Tatum. Ben Simmons has been incredible and a few other rookies are putting up big numbers but from an overall professional standpoint, Tatum has been as good as anybody in the rookie class. He’s come in and started from the first game and played like someone who has been in the league for five years. German rookie Daniel Theis and second-rounder Semi Ojeleye bring energy and defensive versatility to a revamped second unit that just got Marcus Morris back in its last game. And that’s not to say anything about how Aron Baynes has fit in alongside Al Horford up front in the starting lineup. Boston is a legitimate 10 deep without Gordon Hayward.
Meanwhile, We still don’t know what exactly this Orlando Magic team is. It appears to be an improved unit from a season ago when it was one of the worst teams in the NBA but the personnel is more or less the same. With a young team and a fairly new coach, it doesn’t take radical roster moves to see an improvement, though. Orlando has not only beaten, but done a number on both Cleveland and San Antonio. The Cavs have lost big to a couple of terrible teams in the early going but the San Antonio win means something to me. But the Magic just came out at home and got thoroughly beaten by the Chicago Bulls, who are as bad as it gets. I’d like to see Orlando for at least another week or two before I can do anything more than speculate.
What I do know about the Magic is that it has overwhelmed a few teams with its offensive skill. Everybody can shoot it and drive it and while the NBA has been moving in that direction for a few years now, not every team is there yet. Boston is, though. Defensively, the Celtics can switch almost any pick-and-roll and their bigs can move out on the perimeter. There isn’t anything particularly bad about this matchup for Orlando but it won’t get anything easy like it has in some of its wins.
Free Pick: Boston -3