Game Time: 7:30 p.m. Pacific TV: KGW and ESPN
Great. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, here come the Orlando Magic. Not that the Magic have been playing that great lately, mind you. They've actually lost 5 of their last 7, falling to luminaries such as the Wizards, Raptors, and Pacers. In their last outing in Denver on Wednesday the Nuggets roughed up Dwight Howard, held him to 7 shots and 1 make, and pretty much bulldozed the Magic. Howard's been up and down, Rashard Lewis has been anemic, Vince Carter is day-to-day with a shoulder injury...if ever there were a time to catch Orlando this would be it.
But a happy ending will be hard to find here because they still do have Howard and we don't have a prayer of stopping him from doing whatever he wants. Anybody with any Saturday morning experience at all knows you can put Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Robin, the Green Lantern, Hawkman, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Zan, Jayna, and Gleek on one side and Superman on the other and the Man of Steel still wins the Battle of the Superfriends. That's likely to be the story of the game tonight. Howard is too tall, too big, too powerful, and will open up too many opportunities for slumping teammates the way Portland will have to guard him. I don't even want to think about the rebounding.
The last time these two teams met Portland, still possessing the services of Joel Przybilla, played gamely for three quarters on Przybilla's back. The Magic pulled away in the fourth and in the end the Blazers couldn't overcome 37% shooting and a 54-35 rebounding deficit. Portland lost 92-83. The Blazers are going to have to find a way to generate more points tonight, likely from the perimeter. Martell Webster had a horrible shooting game in Orlando. This was also the game in which LaMarcus Aldridge took only 6 shots. Both of those situations have got to change.
Jameer Nelson has returned for the Magic, who need all the help around Howard they can get. He's not full strength even yet and is generating 12 points and 5 assists per game. Rashard Lewis has become a three-point specialist, with more than half of his attempts coming from beyond the arc. His averages are 14 points and 5 rebounds. Vince Carter is scoring over 17 per game but, as we said, he may not play. He's either hot or cold against the Blazers. In short, if you can get Howard out of rhythm the Magic all of a sudden become a team that struggles to score. The main supporting players are underperforming almost to a man, needing to get hot to make a real impact. The fact that the Magic still win so many games testifies to how good Howard has become. Well, that and the nice energy players they bring off of their mid-bench.
The Magic game plan is fairly simple. On offense they want to look to Howard first for the chip shot or the foul shot, then use him to open up three-pointers for everyone else. They average an astonishing 28.4 threes a game. When they're not running the Houston-circa-Hakeem offense they'll throw picks for Carter or Lewis. On defense they want to get back, shut down the middle, and dare you to match their perimeter heaving. And always they rebound. It's not rocket science but it doesn't have to be.
Keys to the Game
1. You have to find a way to get physical with Howard. It's the only thing that throws him. Juwan Howard and Jeff Pendergraph might have to throw some elbows into his kidneys or something. They should be easy to find. They're two inches above either player's head. If you give Howard a comfortable night you lose. Use every dirty trick in the book. Use every foul you have. Shavlik Randolph FTDQ!
2. LaMarcus Aldridge is going to have to make somebody pay for defending him. If they throw Dwight at him, take him outside. If it's Lewis, post. Either way LaMarcus has to match somebody else's weakness with his strength.
3. Everybody has to hit their jumpers. Unless Howard gets into foul trouble it's your only hope. Martell and Rudy, I'm looking at you.
4. Everybody has to rebound.
5. Don't forget that the three isn't a bail-out shot for this team. They work to get that very shot. I know you have to help on Howard, but you'd better be ready to close out as well.
If you make the Magic nervous you can get them to lose, but it's going to take a lot of energy and some consistent scoring to make them nervous.
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