All I can guarantee about Celtics-Magic IV Wednesday night is that there will be a lot of complaining.
Before. During. After. Would you like some whine with that second seed?
Nobody whines for respect from the officials like the Celtics and Magic. OK, and the Cavs. OK, and the Lakers. Anyway, nobody in the playoff picture in either conference has a bigger inferiority complex than Orlando. Last we saw these teams together, the Magic nearly blew a 22-point third-quarter lead with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo wearing suits. (Nice ones, but suits.) Afterward, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy -- admit it, you can't get enough of him, can you? -- proceeded to complain about how the Magic are regarded nationally as an also-ran .500 team. Gee, after that performance, I wonder why?
Not satisfied with taking out one Eastern hub of the Revolutionary War this month, Van Gundy took aim at New York Monday night. The Knicks planned this nice, respectable little shin-dig for their legends, and Van Gundy used the opportunity to complain about how the Knicks never made any effort to hire Patrick Ewing. I'm sure Van Gundy's motivations are pure (wink-wink), but maybe it's something as simple as this: He's tired of his 7-foot freak of nature, Dwight Howard, who is coached by Ewing, getting pushed around by the likes of Leon Powe.
Anyway, Boston and Orlando in the middle of the NCAA's Sweet 16 is about as good as it gets in late March in the NBA. The Celtics finally are at almost-full strength. (Tune in to the pregame interviews, and Doc Rivers will fill you in on all the physical misfortune the poor Celtics have endured. By the time tipoff arrives, you'll be stuffing money in an envelope and sending it to the big bank building/Garden on Causeway Street. Just a dollar a day can keep the starting five in the whirlpool through the conference semifinals.)
The Magic are beginning what will be a fascinating mission to clear hurdles that sent them home prematurely the past two years. They're too soft. All they do is shoot threes. No killer instinct. You know the drill.
They're catching the Celtics at a time when Boston has taken more lumps than it's used to lately. Now the defending champs are looking to inflict some. The Magic, to their credit, are actually stating their preference for a first-round opponent: Their nemesis, the Pistons, who have swept them and cut them down 4-1 in the past two postseasons. This is one thing I greatly admire about Orlando. They recognize the natural progression that great teams before them have followed. You have to beat the team that's knocked you out before.
"Hopefully we play Detroit again," Howard said Monday night after Orlando beat the Knicks. "That'd be good for us because I think we have to get over that hump. Those guys have beaten us two years in a row and they left a bad taste in our mouth. Hopefully, this year it’ll be different Every year, I don’t know what it is about the Pistons, but they seem to have our number and we need to get over that hump mentally. There’s teams around the league that give us problems, and they’re one of those teams. In order to grow out of it, we have to mentally step up to the challenge and beat those guys."
Well, as things stand now, if Orlando can pass the Celtics for the second seed, they'd get their wish and face the Pistons in the first round. But there's a lot more at stake than that. Not the least of which is to see which team does more complaining, lobbying, and whining. I'm picking the Magic in that department, but don't count out the champs.