The Boston Celtics still are entertaining an outside shot at the second seed in the Eastern Conference while the Orlando Magic have plenty of incentive in their bid for the seventh seed.
The Celtics (46-23) will attempt to win their third consecutive contest overall on Sunday when they vie for a three-game season sweep of the Magic (32-38) near Orlando.
Boston moved within 3 1/2 games of second-place Toronto after posting a 122-100 victory over the reigning NBA champion on Friday.
Jaylen Brown scored 20 points and Jayson Tatum added 18 as the Celtics recorded a wire-to-wire win versus the Raptors, who have four games remaining on their slate.
“This game will mean nothing if we get that opportunity again,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after a contest in which his club led by as many as 40 points. “They’re a really good team. I thought they missed a lot of open looks and it just wasn’t their night. Our guys played well, but it won’t mean anything in a couple weeks.”
As for the here and now, the Celtics were pleased with their defensive performance after allowing 117.5 points per contest in their previous four games since the NBA’s restart.
“I saw something, we were like the last team or one of the last teams in defense in the bubble, and that’s just kind of unacceptable for us with the elite defenders we have on this team and just collectively, our identity, who we want to be,” Tatum said.
Tatum also does just fine at the offensive end, with the 22-year-old averaging a team-best 23.3 points per game this season. Tatum sat out Boston’s 109-98 victory over Orlando with a groin injury on Jan. 24 before erupting for 33 points in the Celtics’ 116-100 win over the Magic on Feb. 5.
Speaking of Orlando, it resides 1 1/2 games behind seventh-place Brooklyn (33-36) in the race to avoid facing top-seeded Milwaukee in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Magic suffered a 108-101 setback to Philadelphia on Friday for their third loss in a row. However they punched their postseason ticket an hour later after New Orleans handed Washington a 118-107 defeat.
“It’s still doable, so we’re going to fight for it while we can,” Nikola Vucevic said of trying to secure the seventh seed. “… We would like to get a 7. I think we’re a game-and-a-half behind Brooklyn (and) there’s three games left, so it’s not going to be easy but we’re gonna fight until the end which we’ve done all year long. Hopefully we get there, but if not then we’ll have to get ready for Milwaukee.”
Vucevic, who averages team-best totals in points (19.6) and rebounds (10.9) upped the ante on Friday with 21 and 12, respectively. He averaged 14.5 points and 11 boards in the two meetings with Boston this season.
The availability of Aaron Gordon is in question, however, after the 24-year-old exited Wednesday’s 109-99 setback to Toronto with tightness in his hamstring. He sat out Friday’s game as a result.
“It would be a huge hit for us,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of an extended absence for Gordon, who is averaging 14.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Gordon scored 23 points in the February meeting at Boston.
–Field Level Media