Game 7 Preview: Blazers vs Magic

Today we embark upon an ever-so-lovely 5-game, 8-day road trip with 4 of those 5 teams having at least some mild claim to playoff potential.  In other words the schedule is saying, “You’ve had enough of the right hand uppercuts for a while.  Let’s try some left crosses.”  Despite that, I’d do just about anything to keep us from playing more Western Conference contenders right now.  Beasts from the East actually look pretty good.  That said, Orlando is going to be as tough as any of the good Western teams were.

 

A Look at the Magic

 

Orlando started off the season at 0-2, dropping games to the Hawks and Grizzlies without topping 85 points.  Since then they’ve won 4 straight and haven’t scored fewer than 96, racking up 121 on the hapless Kings.

 

The very first thing to know about the Magic is that Dwight Howard is destroying everything in his path like a tornado full of bazookas stuffed with pop rocks and diet coke.  I could tell you he’s averaging 22 points on 65% shooting with 14 rebounds and an absolutely disgusting 4 blocks per game (and he could add a few more points if he could hit a darn free throw to save his life) but that doesn’t fully describe it.  Against the Wizards 31 points and 16 rebounds.  Against the Kings 29 points and 14 rebounds.  22 and 15 twice against Chicago and Atlanta.  Philadelphia got him in foul trouble and held him to 14 and 8.  Sounds like a plan to me.

 

Howard’s wingmen are forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.  Both have range, both can rebound a little, and both are stinking up the court with their shooting right now, inside and out.  That would be an area for the Blazers to exploit if we could actually manage to defend any shooters.

 

Point guard Jameer Nelson is also off to a shaky start from the field and a disastrous one (21%) from the three-point arc.  He had a great game against the Sixers, scoring 16 and dishing 9, but he’s not yet looking like the bankable commodity he’s been in years past.

 

The guy who has taken to the Magic like a duck to water is Mickael Pietrus.  He was begging for playing time in GoldenState and the Magic were begging for some toughness and athleticism from their wings.  So far Pietrus is playing 27 minutes per game and scoring 14 on 50% shooting from the field and 40% shooting from distance.

 

The Magic bench relies on solid veterans Anthony Johnson, Tony Battie, and Keith Bogans.  They also have youngsters Courtney Lee and J.J. Reddick.  It’s safe to say that getting past Orlando’s starters is a good plan of attack.

 

Orlando’s main job is to feed Dwight Howard on the run or in the post.  The attention you have to pay to him opens up lanes and shots for everybody else.  Beyond that they want to play solid basketball:  rebound well, defend inside and out.  So far this year they’ve been attempting 9.6 more three-pointers per game than their opponents and 6.2 more free throws.  Those are the other keys to their offense.  Fortunately for opponents they’re a lousy free throw shooting team overall because of Howard (48.5%).  Fouling him is definitely an option on defense.  They’re also mediocre distance shooters, especially for a team that heaves that many.  Part of that is an early-season fluke though.  Lewis and Turkoglu are going to come around.  Just pray it’s not tonight.  Frankly their defense has been far more impressive than their offense if you discount Howard’s dominance.  They’re capable of winning either way.

 

Keys to the Game

 

1.  I’m not sure we have any chance of slowing down the Behemoth, so I’d elect to stay home on everybody else and make sure Orlando’s secondary and tertiary scorers have a hard time getting into the game.  30 from Howard doesn’t necessarily scare me.  25 from Lewis or 20 from Turkoglu would because at that point their offense is just going to overload your defense.

 

2.  This team can be attacked, especially at the forward positions.  Lewis is an awful defender and Turkoglu ain’t great.  However if you grind it slow against them and allow Howard to swoop in and help you deserve exactly what you get, which is the ball stuffed back in your face so hard it makes a “Spalding” imprint in your liver.  The ball has got to keep moving even when we’re trying to exploit their weak links.  If Lamarcus or Travis have a one-on-one opportunity and can prosecute it quickly, all to the good.  But if they draw attention they need to be able to pass it.  Better yet their looks should be on the move so that neither their primary defenders nor the help have time to recover.  Do you think Lewis and Turkoglu will be happy being run all over the court?  Might their offensive production suffer if they are forced to defend hard?

 

3.  This might be a night to flood the floor with offense ourselves.  If Joel Przybilla can’t demonstrate an ability to contain Howard early (or if, as seems more likely, Joel gets in foul trouble) I would not hesitate to slide Frye, Outlaw, and Aldridge into those 4-5 spots.  They can stick outside shots.  They can score the ball if it’s passed to them.  They can move the defenders around.

 

4.  I don’t think offensive rebounds are going to be as plentiful tonight as they have been in past games unless Lamarcus gathers a ton.  The better option is just to stick the open shot when you have it.

 

5.  I like our guard options tonight with Roy and Fernandez (together or separately) and even the point guards.  Spreading the floor with the three-pointer is a legitimate option tonight.  Cutting and driving are even better as they have a chance to get the big guy in foul difficulty.  On the sets when you’re not trying to get Aldridge and Outlaw their designated shots I would call an all-out blitz on the backcourt offensive attack.  Roy and Rudy with 20 each would look plenty good tonight.

 

6.  It’s easier said than done, but even if you could keep Howard off of the offensive boards (forget the defensive) it would be a help.

 

7.  If it’s close in the fourth, Hack-a-Dwight is a viable strategy!

 

Storylines to Watch

 

1.  Over-Under on Przybilla’s Fouls:  19.

 

Joel is going to body up and do his best against Howard.  But Dwight is drawing 11 foul shots a game as it is.  How long Przybilla can stay in there will determine our game plan as much as anything.

 

2.  What Defense(s) Do the Blazers Rely On?

 

I would guess we’ll see some zone at first until the Magic perimeter men prove they can hit or cut.  Otherwise you have to be careful who you throw down against Howard to help the centers.  Watching who rotates down there early will show you who the Blazers want the Magic to try and win the game with.

 

3.  Second Unit Scoring

 

We need extra points from somewhere.  The second unit has been one of our saving graces so far.  This would be a GREAT game for a bench bust-out.  Double that greatness if they’re running.  If we’re going to win, they’ll make the difference.

 

4.  Chins Up?

 

Playing Orlando, especially in their place, you’re going to have to deal with a fair amount of discouragement.  You know there are going to be stretches of the game where they’re looking dominant and every whistle is going their way.  If you ride it out and stick with your game you’ll have a chance to get back.  If you get disgusted, get involved with the refs, or flat-out give up they’re going to score 121 on you too.  This game will be an attitude check for the young Blazers.

 

Final Thoughts

 

The Blazers are due for another game where they put it all together.  I just don’t know if it’s going to be this game or Wednesday against Miami.  Winning one of these first two games will be important if we want to salvage a respectable road trip.

 

Check out the Magic point of view at ThirdQuarterCollapse.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

 

 

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