Orlando once again faces elimination when it hosts the Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final in what could be the final game at Amway Arena. Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson keyed the overtime win in Game 4 at TD Garden in Boston on Monday to cut into the Celtics' series lead. ESPN has Wednesday's broadcast with coverage beginning at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
Rajon Rondo has something to hide.
Rondo has the Boston Celtics within one game of returning to the NBA Finals for the 21st time in the franchise’s 63-year history. The Celtics had their foot on the throat of the Orlando Magic after taking a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals. But the Magic are threatening to wriggle free.
Orlando avoided elimination by taking Monday’s Game 4 in overtime, 96-92 as 7-point road dogs. Rondo scored just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, albeit with eight assists, three rebounds, and three steals.
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It was hardly the disaster some people are making it out to be. Rondo put up similar numbers in the series opener and only slightly better in Game 3, both Boston victories. However, Rondo spent much of Monday night in foul trouble, and he took a lot of physical abuse on the basketball court fighting through screens – enough abuse that Rondo went to the Celtics dressing room with trainer Eddie Lacerte before the first half was over, covering his head in a towel so the television cameras couldn’t see his expression. The diagnosis: muscle spasms.
If this were the regular season, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But this is the playoffs, where small problems are magnified in importance. Boston would probably be in the finals already if Rondo had been completely healthy on Monday. There are other reasons why the Celtics lost, of course.
From a handicapping standpoint, though, Boston has less value against the betting odds with its best player at less than 100 percent – even if it’s only 95 percent. Sharps will take every little advantage they can get.
Speaking of which, there’s another injury in the Boston backcourt that deserves mention. Tony Allen has been playing on a gimpy right ankle; he managed just 12 minutes in Game 4 and scored just two points. Allen fills more of a defensive role off the bench anyway, but he was a minus-6 on Monday. Injuries were a big part of Boston’s 33-47-2 ATS record during the regular season, and Game 4 looked more like a regular-season performance from the Celtics.
The Magic also made two important adjustments in Game 4 to extend this series. One, they found some of that intestinal fortitude they were lacking in the first three games. Orlando was no shrinking violet during the regular season, winning the Southeast Division and cashing in at 46-34-2 ATS, so the Magic will presumably man up again in Wednesday’s Game 5 at the Amway Arena. Two, Jameer Nelson was able to find Dwight Howard with the alley oop on multiple occasions. Howard elevates higher than just about anyone in the NBA; this play should continue to be available for Orlando going forward.
Bookmakers have the Magic pegged as 4-point favorites for Wednesday night with a total of 186. Game 4 went 'over' the posted total of 187½ only because of overtime, and even then it took every single point from the extra frame to make it happen.
The 'under' was 10-1 in the previous 11 meetings between Orlando and Boston. The 'under' is also 20-8-2 in the last 30 Magic home games and 10-2 in their last 12 appearances against winning teams.
The betting public has been known to appreciate defense once in a while. Consensus reports at press time have the 'under' checking in at 90 percent support, with Boston drawing 86 percent support on the pointspread and near-unanimous consent on the moneyline as +160 road dogs.
If you prefer to take a contrarian position as part of a larger value-based betting strategy, Orlando -4 is your best option among the traditional single-game wagers. Markets are generally softer for the totals, though, and given the way these two teams have punched each other in the mouth over the past couple of seasons, it’s no shock the 'under' has been a consistent moneymaker all this time.
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