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Game 23 Preview: Magic vs. Blazers

Welcome to the city of Portland, Trail Blazers!  This is the place you’ll be calling “home” for most of the remainder of the season.  It rains a bit and neither girls nor guys comb their hair much, but it has a quaint charm.  Don’t swim in the Willamette, don’t walk behind the horse brigade in the Rose Parade, and if somebody in Pioneer Square asks you if you smoke, just say no.  Other than that, make yourselves at home!  Ice cream is in the freezer, microbrews on the top shelf.


A Look at the Magic


The Magic come into this game with a record of 15-5 behind the incredible play of Dwight Howard.  Howard has continued the dominance he started early this season, averaging 21.5 points, 14.5 rebounds (!), 4.1 blocks (!!!), 58% shooting, and 12 free throws a game (!!!!!).  That’s just filthy, rotten, and not fair at all.  Last time these teams met Howard pinned 29 points and 19 rebounds on the Blazers.  He only took 11 shots too, hitting 8 of them.  How did he get 29 points off of 11 shots?  He took 20 free throw attempts.  Now that’s a guy you can’t stop right there.


The thing that plagued the Blazers in that earlier game was not just Howard catching the ball and putting moves on people, but our inability to adequately contain Orlando’s perimeter players, leading our big men to come and help, leading to Howard’s one-man wrecking ball showing.  You may recall the slumping Hedo Turkoglu tossed in 35 on us that game.  He’s still slumping, as is fellow forward Rashard Lewis.  But if you don’t keep a man on these guys they are going to burn you.


One thing Portland did well in the last meeting was contain the Magic backcourt.  Jameer Nelson is a solid point guard given to occasional spectacular outings.  Mickael Pietrus is an energy guy, an athlete who can bully you into submission.  The entire Orlando bench barely scores more than Howard.  It’s populated with capable rebounders and one or two shooters.  It’s a sure bet that getting into the second unit is a profitable strategy against this team.


The Magic play the game using classic multiplayer video game style.  They have a damage-dealing, near-impervious main tank who garners aggro (i.e. commands the attention of the opponents…that would be Howard) and a bunch of mobile snipers who pick off anything the tank leaves behind.  Because Howard is an intimidation machine in the paint defensively the Magic are free to roam the perimeter bothering your shooters.  Because he needs to be quadruple-teamed on offense their shooters roam free.  Simple enough, and darn effective.  They usually win the rebounding battle, they block a truckload of shots, and they’ll keep your shooting percentage below theirs.  The icing on the cake is that they average 6 more free throws than their opponents as well.  If they weren’t so darn bad at shooting them (tanks don’t make good snipers, even with free shots) you could pencil them in to the Conference Finals right now.


Keys to the Game


1.  Don’t let Howard rule the paint unopposed on your offensive end.


You know he’s going to be in there grabbing rebounds.  It’s a mistake to make it easy on him by shooting over the top all night.  Yes, he blocks shots in there.  No, you’re not just going to be able to post him up one-on-one in isolation and expect to score big.  But every time you penetrate you move him around.  When you move him around you increase the chance he’ll pick up a foul and you put him out of position for the rebound.  That gives your big guys a chance to grab it and score, either off of a pass from you or off of your miss and their offensive board.  Howard is an awesome force in the lane.  Howard is also their only force in the lane.  Make him work hard!


2.  Selectively defend Howard.


You can’t just leave your center on Howard all night and expect to have him still in the game.  He’ll either foul out or get destroyed.  However that doesn’t mean you should run to double team Dwight every time he catches the ball.  The important thing is to keep him off balance and to give your center enough help that he’s not stranded.  The truth is Howard could score 20, 30, or 40 and the Magic could still lose.  It depends on how Turkoglu and Lewis do.  You can even have two of them go off and still win, as Portland did last time against the Magic.  You just can’t let everybody go off at once.  Bother Howard enough to make him think, but the order of the day is to stay home.


3.  The main Magic players will turn the ball over.  Run out on them if they do.  If the ball is scored before Howard gets down there he’s not nearly as effective.


4.  The Blazers’ second unit has got to make their time on the floor count.  Serious scoring from the bench players will go a long way towards winning this game.  Plus one of the main storylines of this game will be how fatigued the Blazers are coming off of the road.  Spreading out the minutes and points will help.


5.  Lamarcus…kill Hedo with the post-up!


6.  If the game is close down the stretch, fouling Howard is a legitimate tactic.



Final Thoughts


The Blazers have had 3.5 subpar games in a row now.  (They had some good stretches in Toronto.)  They’ve won three out of four of those contests.  We’ll need more than subpar to beat the Magic, even at home.  This would be a great time for a rejuvenation.


You can find out more about the Magic at  ThirdQuarterCollapse.


Don’t forget to enter tonight’s Jersey Contest form right here.


--Dave (