Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: KGW
Some previews take an enormous about of analysis, teasing the subtleties out of the other team's style, explaining to an audience who may not have seen them what their attack will probably look like.
This is not one of those previews.
The 6-3 Orlando Magic cruise into town as the Orlando Magic. That's what they're good at. That's how they win. They're not interested in running the ball. They're not interested in forcing turnovers or gambling. They're not interested in flash-bulb-accentuated drives down the lanes, switching hands and finishing on the reverse side for the and-one. Here's what they want: We got Dwight Howard. You bring anybody you care to. Let's walk the ball up the court like gentlemen, go mano-a-mano for 80 or so possessions each, and let's see who comes out on top. I did mention we have Dwight Howard, right? If not, fair warning.
Howard, of course, is one of a handful of NBA players who can posterize you in the halfcourt offense not doing anything particularly more than being himself. He puts such pressure on your defense that it ends up looking like that picture of Einstein's gravity well. He's the big mass in the middle. You bend around him. If, by chance, you sink enough men into the center of the court to stop his scoring and/or offensive rebounding then you get to watch the ball zip to the oustide for an open three-point shot. Of the 8 non-Howard guys in Orlando's rotation, 5 of them shoot 36% or better from the arc. 4 of them are at 40% or above. Plus one of the guys who doesn't qualify yet is point guard Jameer Nelson who, although in a current slump, shoots 39% from distance for his career and has to be considered dangerous from that range until further notice.
It's a simple system but effective and they know how to make it work. That includes not rushing bad shots, not turning over the ball, not going one-on-one unless it's Howard-on-one. Unless you have quick bigs with incredible recovery skills or can get Howard in early foul trouble, you just have to pray for an off-night from him (which means "just" 50% shooting instead of his normal 60%) or hope that their sharpshooters miss (a slightly more likely and advantageous outcome).
Defensively it's the same story. The Magic play sound "D". They get back and don't allow the break. They defend the middle and stop points in the paint. As I'm writing they're 5th and 4th in the league in those categories respectively. They keep your pace down, never gamble, and force you into a better-covered shot than they one they just took. Extend that over an entire game and they come out with a comfortable, predictable win.
The names surrounding Howard (19ppg, 15rpg, 2.5 bpg, 59% shooting, 9 ft att per game) will be familiar to anyone who's followed the team for a while. Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Ryan Anderson all start. Anderson, a 6'10" power forward who can drain the three as well as anybody on this team, is off to one heck of a start, averaging 18 points and a PER higher than Howard's. Nelson, as mentioned above, is having a hard time finding his shooting touch as is the fifth starter, Jason Richardson. Ported over from the Suns, Richardson is an odd fit with this group in the best of circumstances. His minutes are almost the same as he played in Phoenix but his shots are far fewer and all his shooting percentages have bottomed out. That said, he can probably lay 30 on you any given night. We'll see if that ends up making a difference for the Magic as the season progresses.
J.J. Reddick, Quentin Richardson, and Chris Duhon provide bench support at the small positions. All are shooting well from distance, pretty much what's required of them. Glen Davis is the only regular big guy off the bench. Orlando doesn't want big players coming off the bench anyway.
Two huge questions loom for the Blazers tonight, exactly the ones you'd expect:
1. What the heck are they going to do about Howard? They can't let him just post deep on Camby or anyone else. They're going to have to run multiple, mobile defenders at him, trying to disrupt the dribble. If they don't have a center to keep him from setting up three feet from the hoop none of that will matter. But if they can get him out on the floor a little they might be able to mess with his rhythm. That's provided Camby doesn't get either flattened or in early foul trouble. But even if this works...
2. Will the Blazers be able to get back and cover the shooters? Portland doesn't allow a ton of open shots and defends the arc quite well. BUT...neither of those things holds true when the Blazers are scrambling. The usual product of their swarming defense is a turnover but Orlando doesn't do that. A secondary product is covering the opponent's superstar with multiple players but Orlando faces that every night. Plus those players won't be near the size of Howard. Plus the open shots left in the wake of the shuffle could prove deadly.
Likely the Blazers will try to stop Howard and take their chances with the jump-shooters no matter how proficient they are.
The greater philosophical question will be one of pace. The Blazers used to prosper at an Orlando tempo. Not this year. Portland will want to play free and easy, Orlando slow and steady. You should be able to tell how this game is going in a single glance. Do you see more rabbits or turtles on the floor? Bunnies equal a chance for Portland, tortoises equal almost certain defeat. Rebounding will be a key to pace, naturally. The Blazers' gang-rebounding philosophy will be sorely tested against Mega Man Howard. It'll be interesting to see how many boards guys like Nicolas Batum and Raymond Felton are able to wrest away, especially since one of Portland's two forwards will likely be on the perimeter trying to watch Anderson.
LaMarcus Aldridge remains the great hope for the Blazers on the offensive end. Anderson is a decent defender but Aldridge should be able to score on him. LMA will need help though. Either the Blazers have to get hot with the jumpers or they need to push the pace and get easy shots.
The Blazers also have to make any minutes Howard spends on the bench count. Their own bench players will need to produce...an iffy proposition so far this year.
In short, while you never want to discount Portland's heart nor the home court advantage you have to look at this game as a serious test for the Blazers. They're on their second game in as many nights. The opponent has had a couple days to relax and watch the Blazers play. They're up against a superstar for whom they have no physical answer at a position at which they are paper-thin. The opponent performs well, has plenty of experience, and employs a style that's directly in conflict with Portland's preferred play. This kind of game will show what Portland is made of.
Look up the Orlando perspective at Orlando Pinstriped Post.
Your Jersey Contest form for this game is here.
P.S. In case you're at all confused about the wording on that last Jersey Contest question it's asking what percentage of the total shots taken by Portland's bench are actually taken by Jamal Crawford. The formula would be: Shot Attempts by Crawford / Shot Attempts by All Bench Players Combined = What Percent? If the bench attempted 20 shots total and Jamal took 10 of them the answer would be 50%, as Jamal lofted up half of the shot attempts coming from Portland's bench.