3:30 P.M.: Magic, Celtics Will Hopefully Produce Some Much-Needed Excitement

At 3:30 Eastern on ABC, the Celtics and Magic start the Eastern Conference finals. For further reading, check out our Magic blog, Orlando Pinstriped Post, and our Celtics blog, the appropriately-named CelticsBlog.

Preview courtesy of Sports Network.

The Boston Celtics were able to put the NBA's best player, LeBron James, in the rear view mirror and are now moving on to the Eastern Conference finals for the second time in three years.

Things don't figure to get any easier for the C's, however, as the well- rested, red-hot Orlando Magic, the defending conference champs and a far more well-rounded team than James' Cleveland Cavaliers, lay in wait.

Kevin Garnett had 22 points and 12 rebounds as the Celtics beat Cleveland, 94-85, in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal set on Thursday. Rajon Rondo contributed 21 points, 12 assists and five steals for Boston, which gained the 4-2 series victory by winning the final three games.

"I'm really not that proud of this, truthfully because our goal was to win a championship," forward Paul Pierce said. "We didn't say we wanted to come into this year and beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. Our goal is a championship."

The second-seeded Magic will have home-court advantage against Boston, which came into the playoffs seeded fourth. The Magic, who beat Boston in seven games in the conference semifinals last year, are a perfect 8-0 this postseason and have won 14 straight games dating back to the regular season.

Orlando, which is an amazing 28-3 since Feb. 28, finished its semifinals series back on May 10 when Vince Carter stru ck for 22 points and the Magic made 16 shots from beyond the arc, as Orlando advanced to the East finals for a second straight year, beating Southeast Division-rival Atlanta, 98-84, to finish off another playoff sweep.

The Magic's dominance over Atlanta was breathtaking. Orlando recorded the largest victory margin in a four-game sweep in NBA playoff history, winning the series by a total of 101 points.

"That's always the goal," Carter said. "Just like every other team that enters the playoffs, when you want to show your dominance it's definitely the playoff time. I think we've done that."

The Magic also swept Charlotte in the first round before disposing of the Hawks in the conference semifinals.

"I think it's good, but last year Cleveland won their first eight and then we beat them in the conference finals," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "The one thing you have to understand about playoff basketball, you've got to get beyond the last game in the last series. It has no meaning for the game or the series coming up whatsoever. You go in with good confidence, you get a little bit of rest, but it will all come down to how you play in the next matchup."

On the injury front for Orlando, forward Matt Barnes missed practice Saturday with back spasms but expects to start in Game 1 at Amway Arena. The defensive stalwart is expected to check both Pierce and Ray Allen in the series and is a important part of Van Gundy's defensive philosophy.

For the Celtics, center Kendrick Perkins, the team's first line of defense against All-Star Dwight Howard, missed practice Saturday in order to rest his sore right knee. He is also expected to start.

The Magic won three of four games vs. the Celtics in the regular season this year and has taken both playoff matchups between the two franchises, last year's Eastern Conference semifinals set and a first round win back in the 1994-95 season.

Garnett, the Celtics' leader, was sidelined with a knee injury when Boston lost to the Magic last year but the Orlando was also shorthanded as starting point guard Jameer Nelson was absent with a tear in his right shoulder. Both players are back this time and playing at a very high level.

"Orlando was the team coming into the season where if you wanted to get out of the East, you had to beat Orlando," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They are the team that won the East last year, not Cleveland, and I want to make sure our guys focus on that. I'm confident we're going to get the effort."

The best-of-seven series continues on Tuesday for Game 2, also in Orlando.

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