ORLANDO, Fla. — Celtics coach Doc Rivers remembers when Boston overhauled its roster three years ago. Sure, the talent was there with the Big Three. So were the questions.
"When we made our move everybody told us you had to wait a year to put a championship team together," Rivers said before the Celtics practiced Friday in Orlando. "I didn't buy into that. Neither did our guys, and we proved everybody wrong."
Now imagine a major midseason shake-up.
The Celtics will face a reconstructed Magic team Saturday trying to duplicate the quick turnaround – only doing so in December – that propelled Boston to instant champions, giving this Eastern Conference finals rematch a Christmas Day remix.
"We're not playing for December or January," Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard said. "We're playing for June."
Orlando is a shell of the team bounced by Boston in six games last season.
An early slide forced the Magic to orchestrate two blockbuster trades last weekend that brought Gilbert Arenas from Washington and Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark from Phoenix. They gave up Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat, plus a 2011 first-round draft pick and cash, in the deals.
Now one question to be answered is do they match up better with Boston.
"I'm not sure how, since they've gotten smaller, what sense that makes," Rivers said. "They've just brought more talent and they're a better team, to me, in the long run because they've added more talent."
There is a glaring difference, of course, from the Magic's makeover to the summer of 2007 when the Celtics teamed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with Paul Pierce: Boston still had a training camp and an entire regular season to get ready. Orlando is doing this on the fly.
Even Magic coach Stan Van Gundy isn't quite sure how it will all shake out.
"I think Miami and Boston are very, very good. Chicago, Atlanta and New York are all playing well and are good. And I think we're a total unknown." he said.
If last season was any indication, there's no telling what this matchup might look like in the playoffs.
The Celtics limped into the postseason as the fourth seed last season. All they did was knock out top-seeded Cleveland and MVP LeBron James and second-seeded Orlando before losing to the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA finals.
The Magic are banking on the same approach: sacrifice now to win later. And that's about all they can do at this point.
They've slipped from first to tied for fifth in the East after dropping eight of nine games before beating San Antonio, still the league's best at 25-4. Now comes a Boston team that has won 14 straight games to move atop the conference.
"I don't think overconfidence is going to be one of our problems right now," Van Gundy said, chuckling. "Our problems are more like learning each others' names and stuff so we can stop saying, 'Go in for No. 23.'"
Not that Boston has things completely cleared up.
The winning streak has baffled Rivers because the team has been hit with so many injuries. Point guard Rajon Rondo, backup Delonte West, Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal have all missed significant time during the spurt, and Kendrick Perkins, the starting center last season, hasn't been on the floor all season.
Rondo is expected to sit out against Orlando and both O'Neals will likely play, Rivers said. Even with the Magic just coming together, it's a matchup that will surely test Boston's bravado.
"We're not really concentrating on the streak," Shaquille O'Neal said. "One of our goals is to try to stay dominant at home, beat the teams we're supposed to beat and stay above .500 on the road."
The Magic don't have quite the same regular-season expectations.
Beating the NBA's top two teams in consecutive games, however, could do wonders for a new team trying to mesh.
"We've only seen a glimpse of what we could be and how well we could play and what we could do," Richardson said. "Boston will be another good test. But time will tell how good we really are."