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Game 54 Preview: Blazers at Magic

A Look at the Magic

Despite being one of the more acclaimed teams, and having one of the more acclaimed stars, in the Eastern Conference the Magic are limping into the break, having lost four of their last five.  The competition was reasonably stiff, but still they're hardly oozing confidence at the moment.  This game will be important for the psyches of both teams.  A nice win would bring renewed promise.  A loss could be a harbinger of things to come, especially in the case of the Blazers.

The main guy for the Magic is Dwight Howard.  He is an awesome physical specimen.  He's scary.  And that's at 21 years old, folks.  He averages around 18 and 12 with 2 blocks but that doesn't tell the story of what he can do.  At this point I don't think a brick wall could stop him if he really wanted to get to the hoop.  I know about Wade and LeBron and Kobe, but he's my odds on favorite to be the most unstoppable force in the league three years from now.

Howard's main sidekick is the hobbling Grant Hill.  He hasn't played for a while but he's been cleared to play for this game.  Since trade rumors are swirling around him I'm guessing he will too.  He's a great percentage shooter with an amazing array of overall skills...as good of a team player as you'll find.  Point guard Jameer Nelson is having a good season.  He's a steady assist guy who can also score at need.  He dropped 31 on the Spurs the other night.  Hedo Turkoglu is a 6'10" guy with range who always seems to light up the Blazers.  The Magic have also been getting contributions lately from some unlikely places.  Darko Milicic has been showing signs of life, with double-digit scoring games and some impressive rebounding efforts as well.  Shar-shooting rookie J.J. Reddick has also had some nice games as has backup point guard Carlos Arroyo.

The first job when playing the Magic is obviously to keep as many bodies as you can spare between Dwight Howard and the basket.  But even as you're doing that you have to remember they have a bevy of outside shooters.  If you are slow rotating back to the jump shooters they're going to riddle you all night long.  They're not a particularly quick team nor do they score a ton.  They rely on hitting a few more shots than you do and try to play smart enough to make that happen.  Dwight Howard draws a lot of fouls but shoots a poor percentage.  Most of the others are good foul shooters but don't draw them, preferring to play a finesse game.  Orlando has trouble taking care of the ball, with Howard being a main culprit.

What I'd Like To See:

  1.  The #1 job tonight is to keep Dwight Howard from dunking.  Our centers are going to need quick help, but as we just said we also have to rotate back to the shooters.  But first things first...get two guys on Howard, try to pressure him into mistakes, and if he started dominating then foul him up good.
  2.  I think we need to push the ball a little tonight, especially if they turn it over to us.  The Magic have a much harder time winning as their opponent approaches 100.
  3.  We cannot get into a pretty, finesse game with this squad.  They're better than us at looking good.  It's got to be a scrappy, ugly, knee-burning kind of game.  Let's see if Hill wants to dive on the floor, if Nelson wants to run past a pick where he gets pork-chopped with an elbow, if Turkoglu likes running all over the floor chasing somebody.
  4.  Orlando plays better defense as a group than their individual abilities would indicate.  Driving against them like we did against Miami would negate some of that.
  5.  For all their potential scorers, the Magic don't usually coordinate that well on offense.  If you can stop the scorer and then cover the first pass after they'll often get stuck.  They don't have a ton of guys who will burn you individually so this shouldn't be too hard to do.
  6.  No Zach, no win.  It's just that simple.  But I think he'll come out with a big game tonight.  (I'm often wrong about those individual predictions though.)
I really hope we take this one to the bank tonight.  Catching Orlando shaky is a nice opportunity.  It would make the All-Star break ever so much brighter.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)