Game Time: 7:30 p.m. TV: TNT
The Orlando Magic come into this game with several advantages. They have a 15-6 record. They have a 6-3 record on the road. And they have one big hulking beast of a center for which the Trail Blazers will have to compensate. Calling Dwight Howard "unstoppable" is a misnomer. Plenty of teams stop him...or at least keep him below 20 points. But Portland's "big" men are prone to foul trouble and once you get past Marcus Camby the roster gets pretty thin in the tall department. Plus nobody stops Howard from rebounding. The Blazers don't do well when they get outrebounded. The most likely option for Portland is to throw immediate help to whomever guards Big Dwight. The tale of this game may be how well the rest of Orlando's roster responds.
The best way to describe the rest of that roster is "A bunch of guys that other teams thought had promise". Jameer Nelson is their homegrown boy, a genuine passer and three-point threat at point guard. J.J. Redick is another original draft pick and three-point shooter, though he's really, really not hitting them this year. After that come names that were somewhat overrated on their old teams and have now found a home in Orlando: Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Brandon Bass, Quentin Richardson, Chris Duhon. Some are long enough in the tooth to make a sabertooth tiger blush. Others are so sporadic you don't know what you'll get night to night. Bass can usually be counted on for offense and forward Mickael Pietrus for energy and defense. If the opponent can slow Howard without compromising their defense entirely these guys have a hard time putting together offense. When left free, however, they can still stir up the ghosts of promise past. They're not the most cohesive unit but each individual can burn you.
The magic potion that turns Orlando from good to great has but two ingredients: rebounding and defense. The Magic slow the game down. They don't fast break and they don't let you fast break. They don't let you score in the paint either. They want to eke out a small plus margin in the paint thanks to Howard and a large margin outside it as your perimeter players, stymied in the lane, try to out-gun theirs. They're the best defensive rebounding team in the league when you miss. You can pretty much tell that you're going to lose to the Magic when your offense goes "one shot, long shot".
So...providing the Blazers can inhibit Howard's intimidation factor without letting Carter pour in 25 from mid-range jumpers or Lewis, Nelson, and Redick destroy them with the three they might have a chance. Providing they also hit their shots (because you know they're not fast breaking or getting the ball inside). Keeping Howard from going crazy on the offensive boards would be a start. Marcus Camby hitting from outside to draw Howard out would be a huge development. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez draining deep wouldn't hurt. All of that happening together is a long shot, but that's about what the Blazers will need.
Experience the lead-up over at Orlando Pinstriped Post.
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