Celtics hope to return to court vs. Magic
After a week of postponements and scheduling chaos, the Boston Celtics appear set to return to the court Friday when they host the Orlando Magic.
The Celtics have had their last three games called off in accordance with the league's COVID-19 protocols. Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams III have reportedly tested positive for the virus, and the team has been unable to meet the minimum threshold of eight active players while contact tracing is being performed.
The most recent postponement was a meeting with the Magic that had originally been scheduled for Wednesday night. That contest will now be played at a later date to be announced.
"I think that our players are all doing well," Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said in a radio interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub on Thursday. "It looks like we're going to be able to play a game tomorrow. But we still have 17 more tests to do between now and then.
"Each of these tests, you're just on pins and needles right now."
Already ruled out for Friday's contest due to health and safety protocols are Tatum and Williams, along with reserve guard Carsen Edwards. Swingman Jaylen Brown and big men Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye are among four in protocol listed as questionable, while guards Kemba Walker (knee) and Romeo Langford (wrist) are still sidelined by injury.
The loss of Tatum is particularly impactful for Boston, as the forward was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday. Tatum is averaging 26.9 points per game this season and has led the team in scoring in six of its first 10 games.
"The most important thing for us to keep in mind is the health and safety of players, staff, people who are connected to the players, and everybody else," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "... We're going to do our best to keep each other safe and adhere to whatever protocols we are asked to follow."
Before its unexpected hiatus, Boston had won six of its last seven games to move atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The Magic last took the court Monday in a 121-99 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Orlando has dropped three straight, with each loss coming by double digits, after starting the season 6-2. The team has played its last six games without No. 3 scorer Evan Fournier (14.8 points per game), who has been sidelined by back spasms.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding their series with Boston, the time off has likely proven advantageous for the Magic. Orlando is amidst a stretch of games with no more than one day off between contests that will run through Feb. 2.
"We're going to try to save (players') legs and as much energy as possible for the games," coach Steve Clifford said earlier this week. "... It's a different season, and the longer we go through it there's just more challenges. I think the way you handle these off days are critical."
Barring any additional postponements, Orlando will play its next five games on the road, including against the Nets in Brooklyn on Saturday less than 24 hours removed from Friday's tilt.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 15, 2021