Young, hungry opponents have proven to be problematic for the Boston Celtics at times this season.
They will face another one in the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
Boston (34-31) will look to strengthen its record in hopes of avoiding the play-in round when it visits Orlando. The Celtics begin a stretch of five out of seven games away from home to close the regular season.
As good as the Celtics have looked in wins over contenders such as Milwaukee, Denver, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers this season, they have played as poorly in losses to bottom dwellers such as Cleveland, Sacramento, Detroit and Oklahoma City.
After needing a 32-point rally and a franchise record-tying 60 points from star forward Jayson Tatum to beat San Antonio in overtime last Friday, Boston couldn’t keep pace with Portland in a 129-119 loss on Sunday.
With their fifth loss in eight games, the Celtics dropped one game behind Miami for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East that guarantees avoiding the play-in round.
“Just take the mindset of, whether we won or lost today, you just can’t change that and all you can do is prepare for the next one,” Tatum said after scoring 33 in the loss. “So we’ve just got to get ready for Orlando.”
The loss may have cost them more than just a game in the standings, as both Tatum and co-star Jaylen Brown suffered injuries when they tripped over each other in the final minute. Brown sprained his right ankle and limped off the floor while Tatum was kicked in the right shin and slowly made his way to the locker room.
Brown will sit out against Orlando, while Tatum and Celtics guard Kemba Walker (left oblique strain) are on track to play after practicing fully Tuesday.
One of six teams already eliminated from playoff contention, the Magic (21-44) are focused on building up their young core heading into the offseason. But they have shown a knack for staying competitive in winning three of their last four.
Orlando used a career night from young center Mo Bamba to stave off the Detroit Pistons 119-112 on Monday. Two nights prior, rookie guard Cole Anthony hit a game-winning 3-pointer to cap a career scoring night (26 points) in a one-point win over Memphis.
“The biggest thing for the last two games is we’re in the win column,” said Bamba, who posted career bests in points (22) and rebounds (15) against the Pistons. “At the end of the day, we’re a young, hungry team that wants to win.”
The Magic have their own injury concerns as James Ennis III (calf), Chuma Okeke (ankle), Terrence Ross (back), Michael Carter-Williams (ankle) and Otto Porter Jr. (foot) all remained out against Detroit. Devin Cannady sustained a season-ending ankle injury last week and was released Tuesday.
Orlando signed veteran guard Sindarius Thornwell to a two-way deal on Tuesday to bolster its shorthanded locker room.
Boston earned a pair of home victories against Orlando earlier this season and will look to close out the season series sweep. Brown was a major contributor in both victories, scoring 21 in a 124-97 rout on Jan. 15 and 34 in a 112-96 win on March 21st.
–Field Level Media
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