ORLANDO, Fla. - Doc Rivers says the defending champions can win anywhere and getting his banged up Boston Celtics healthy for the playoffs is more important than homecourt advantage.
Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy believes homecourt advantage is crucial to postseason success.
The teams might get the chance to determine who is right on the court.
The Celtics and Magic both trail first-place Cleveland and appear headed for a second-round playoff matchup. The winner of Wednesday night’s game takes the season series and a big step toward securing the Eastern Conference’s second seed behind the Cavaliers.
“No question,” Van Gundy said. “Homecourt, I think it’s huge. Every day, you’re playing for something.”
Orlando (52-18) enters the meeting a game behind Boston (54-18) — but tied in the loss column — for second in the East. With Cleveland four games ahead of the Celtics, the fight for first may already be over.
Securing No. 2 would guarantee homecourt advantage for a possible second-round, Celtics-Magic series.
“We would like to have it, but for us, health is far more important,” Rivers said. “If you aren’t going to get the first seed, we want to be healthy, that’s the way we look at it. Obviously, we would like it and we’re going to play for it, but we feel we can win anywhere.”
Injuries have forced Rivers to be more flexible.
Kevin Garnett missed 13 games with a right knee strain, and Rivers has limited the All-Star forward’s minutes in his first three games back. Garnett is likely to play sparingly Wednesday against the Magic.
Point guard Rajon Rondo missed two games — both losses — with a right ankle sprain, joining backups Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen in the trainer’s room. Ray Allen also missed a game last week with a right elbow strain.
The always competitive Garnett is still coping with his limited minutes. Garnett said he’d like to see more playing time, but he understands resting might be the best long-term plan to help the Celtics defend their title.
“It’s very tough,” Garnett said. “The reasons why when I’m out I’m not out there on the bench is because I might jump out there in street clothes and start hooping. One of the hardest things for me is to sit down. My teammates will tell you it’s not easy being hurt, especially for me.”
Orlando hasn’t been hampered by health issues lately.
All-Star forward Rashard Lewis, bothered by tendinitis in his right knee, is the only active Magic player with a nagging injury. Orlando lost point guard Jameer Nelson in early February to a season-ending shoulder tear but acquired Rafer Alston from Houston in a trade-deadline deal that has allowed the Magic to remain a serious contender.
The Magic can clinch their second straight Southeast Division title with a win and an Atlanta loss on Wednesday. However, that is merely a formality, their eyes are fixed on Boston, Cleveland and the standings.
“We look at it all the time,” Lewis said. “The most important part is we’re right on the tail of Boston and we’re trying to catch them. I think the farther we move up the better off we’ll be having homecourt advantage.”
Homecourt was a major factor for Boston last year.
The Celtics were pushed to the brink of elimination twice, taking their first two series with Game 7 wins at home. It wasn’t until the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit that they were able to get their first win outside Boston.
A win at Orlando could give the Celtics the cushion they need and allow them to limit playing time in the final weeks.
“It’s one of those situations when you do your work early, you have a tendency to rest a little bit later,” Allen said.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The Magic understand that to win the East, no matter where the games are played, they’re going to have to go through Cleveland and Boston.
“We’re going to play the top teams if we want to get where we want to be anyway,” Lewis said. “We can’t avoid them.”
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