Game 14 vs. Magic
I hate games like this. Orlando is one of those teams that has really gotten better in the last couple of years but people forget to notice. So everybody goes to the game looking for the 2004 Magic and then end up getting a big dose of the 2007 Magic and all of a sudden everybody's saying, "What's wrong with the Blazers?" What's wrong with the Blazers is the Magic are darn good and are likely to give us a whuppin' tonight.
A Look at the Magic
Orlando cruises into town with a 12-3 record. They've lost to Detroit, Phoenix, and San Antonio. That's it. If you're not a Finals contender you need not apply for a victory token...at least not at this point. The team is led by my most coveted player three years running, Dwight Howard. The guy is a freak. One look at him tells you that you're not from the same planet. And this year the freakishness extends well beyond his otherworldly athletic build. He's averaging over 23 points, shooting .615 from the field, grabbing 14.5 rebounds, drawing 11.6 free throw attempts, and oh...blocking more than 2.5 shots per game. What he's doing to opponents is illegal in 17 states and the territory of Guam. Singapore won't let children watch him. Much of his development was foretold from the time he entered the league but you can't underestimate what the addition of Rashard Lewis has done for his game. Rashard is shooting .493 and scoring 20 a game himself, plus his 44% three-point percentage opens up the floor for the big guy. Let's get this straight: when your main guy shoots 61% and your secondary guy shoots 50% you are a handful.
It doesn't stop there either. Hedo Turkoglu was reportedly trade bait during the off-season but he's topping 18 a game himself with the new-look Magic. Like Lewis he is quite capable of burning you from distance. Point Guard Jameer Nelson rounds out the potent quadrangle with 6.4 assists per game. After that the Magic lineup is somewhat substandard so far, with guys you'd expect to contribute like Pat Garrity, Carlos Arroyo, and Adonal Foyle languishing. But it hardly matters. They can cash their per diem and tell their grandchildren they played with Dwight Howard. (Of course the whippersnappers will ask whether grandpa played with Kobe or LeBron but that's just media-inspired ignorance. Howard's da bomb.)
The Magic win the old-fashioned way: they shoot better than they let you shoot. Their attempts are concentrated heavily among their most talented players. You might try to double one of them out of the game but the other two will kill you. Howard might score on your double team anyway. They have a near 40-point advantage in overall shooting percentage and somewhere around 35 points in three-point shooting. So far this year they are 5th in the league in field goal percentage and 4th in field goal percentage allowed. They are tied for the league lead in three-pointers made per game. They also draw a ton more foul shots than they give up. Other than that their game is pretty basic. Despite Howard's rebounding prowess they don't outclass opponents on the boards as a team. They allow their opponents plenty of offensive rebounds. They take good care of the ball but they don't force turnovers. This is not a team that will surprise you. This is a team where you know exactly what they're going to be doing and then they go out and do it to you anyway. The fact that they prey on many of our weaknesses (thin front line, inability to close out when we help, need to play zone to cover individual shortcomings) doesn't help.
What I'd Like to See
- You have to pick your poison with this team: try to stop Dwight Howard or try to stop their outside shooters. We're not likely to do either, but my vote is to sag in deep on Dwight. Limiting his effectiveness hurts the Magic more than anything. It has the bonus effect of clogging the middle, forcing them to shoot over the top. They're very good at it but that shot will break down sooner than Dwight's dunks will. Double-team Howard, single-cover everybody else. If we start doubling the outside guys we're going to see alley-oops to Dwight all night long.
- Obviously if the game plan works and their shooters start missing we're going to need to rebound it.
- The Blazers are going to have to try and outrun Howard before he can get set up to defend. Once again we find we need to get Lamarcus down the court quickly. It's doubtful whether that's possible while still maintaining our rebounding is. However some easy buckets would sure help our cause in a game where we probably have to top 100 to win.
- The main guys tonight are probably going to have to be Roy, Jack, and Outlaw. I anticipate Lamarcus having his hands more than full either defending or rebounding. Those three better have a great night tonight. Oh...it wouldn't hurt to see Channing Frye hit a bunch of jumpers either. It would draw out the defense. Just sayin'.
- If the game is close in the fourth, start fouling Howard. That's the only part of his game that's subpar. In fact many of the Magic have trouble making foul shots. Hacks are preferable to dunks.
- Unless we go all out and keep our intensity up all game this team is just going to walk away with it. Wanting it more and catching some crazy, home-town emotion is probably our best hope.