BOSTON — The Orlando Magic have seemingly spent all season worrying about something. There was the Dwight Howard fiasco(s), Jameer Nelson's atrocious play in the first half of the season and the recent rash of injuries that wiped out three-fourths of their regular frontcourt rotation.
Howard missed his sixth game Wednesday with a herniated disc in his lower back, and the Magic are no more than cautiously optimistic that the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year will be back in uniform for the playoffs, if at all.
It is possible they are simply tired of being worried. Head coach Stan Van Gundy, never a flappable guy to begin with, was able to stand before reporters prior to the game in Boston and matter-of-factly express what should be a terrifying thought for the Magic.
"What we're saying right now is, our approach, is this is our team, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs," Van Gundy said. "If we get [Howard] back, obviously, it would be a huge bonus, but we're not expecting that at this point."
After Wednesday's display in Boston, the Celtics and Pacers must be dying to play these Magic in the playoffs. The Magic's ability to close within two points late in the fourth quarter thanks to smart defense and astute coaching could not overshadow the fact that Orlando was unable to make a run in long stretches when the Celtics unloaded their bench.
The Celtics' unit of Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels and E'Twaun Moore, given the amount of time those five players have played together this season, should have crumbled against even a depleted Magic squad. But that group was only minus-two in their 10 minutes on the floor together, holding off the Magic long enough for Paul Pierce to deliver the daggers in the closing seconds.
As with any struggling team, the Magic turned to rationalizations after the loss. They noted that they came into Wednesday on a two-game win streak, conveniently failing to mention that those two wins came over the Cavaliers (also known as the Cleveland Down by 50s) and the free-falling Sixers.
This is not just about Howard. Hedo Turkoglu has also been out since literally breaking his face on April 5, and Glen Davis made his return against the Celtics after missing one game with a hyperextended right knee.
The Magic are hurting in multiple areas, and while they sounded confident about their ability to win without two of their most important players, the result against the Celtics was not promising.
"Obviously, you always wonder what it's going to be like with those guys and how much better we could play or be," Magic forward Ryan Anderson said. "But this is what we have. We can't think about what we don't have, because you never know when those guys are going to get back and get healthy, so we have to focus on this group."
They might be worried-out in Orlando, and given all they have gone through, that is entirely fair. But if this was more or less what the Magic will look like the rest of the way, it might be time to practice furrowing their brows and shaking their heads. There could be a lot more of that in their immediate future.