Game Time: 4:00 PM TV: Comcast
OK, now things get interesting. The Magic carry an unfortunate (for us) combination of being 18-7 on the year, having just lost their last game, and playing at home where they are 9-2. Their home losses came to Cleveland and Miami so it's not like just anyone gets to waltz in and request a win. They're good, they're stacked, and unless they completely take us for granted the Blazers will have a hard time winning this game. Granted it's happened before for Portland in Orlando, but it's always hard when you're fielding a team that's trying to be something and facing a team that's full of people who already are the something you're trying to become.
Obviously your first thought when you think "Magic" is Dwight Howard and rightfully so. Name a way he's not destroying the league this year. He's averaging 18 points and almost 13 rebounds. He gets over 2 blocks per game, shoots over 63% from the field, and is drawing 11 foul shots per game. Even though he's only hitting 59% of those free throws he's causing foul trouble for everyone who comes against him...a definite headache for the Blazers at the moment. He's completed the metamorphosis from incredibly raw talent to legitimate NBA superstar. There are no answers for him when he gets the ball where he likes it. He's the main reason Orlando has the 4th most efficient offense in the league. He's also the main reason the Magic rank 2nd in the league in points in the paint allowed and 1st in defensive rebounding percentage. He's a two-way player, one of the wholly unique talents playing today.
The Magic have surrounded Howard with a bevy of perimeter players. Vince Carter leads the pack, also leading the team in scoring at 19 per game. He's not the VC of old but he can still hit a jumper and he can still pour it in when needed. He's scored 25+ six times this season already. Rashard Lewis didn't play until mid-November and had a hard time with adjustments when he did return but he's had a good month, is hitting the three-pointer, and is hitting 20ppg himself fairly routinely now. Those two have got the heavy scoring covered.
With Jameer Nelson out Orlando has dug Jason Williams out of mothballs. Though he's no longer any kind of Chocolate, save perhaps "stale", he still knows how to pass the ball and he's not shy about shooting the three either. Small forward Mickael Pietrus, former Golden State energy-producer, rounds out the starting lineup. Guess what? He can hit threes as well. In fact the only guys who can't drain the long ball on this team are Howard, forward Brandon Bass, and (this year anyway) forward Matt Barnes. Unless you're facing one of those three you better be ready to close out and get a hand up.
The Magic field ancient-yet-capable reserve Anthony Johnson at point guard, shooters J.J. Reddick at off-guard and Ryan Anderson at power forward, Barnes at small forward, and 6'11" rebounder Marcin Gortat for a few minutes at center. Both Gortat and the aforementioned Bass could be getting more time elsewhere. This team is pretty deep and they use everybody. They seldom lack for energy and they never lack for offensive threats.
Unless the ball is going to Howard the Magic attack is primarily perimeter-oriented. They don't score on the break and they don't score in the paint if Howard isn't taking the shot. They will give Dwight the first chance to break you down, which he'll likely do if you try and guard him one-on-one. If you send help they have you. It's simple, as old as the hills, and extremely effective. They draw a lot of fouls and shoot a TON of threes, generating extra points even in their measured game.
They'll practice the same basic plan on defense. They make up for spotty individual defenders at the wing positions by getting back, not letting you break, then shutting down the middle and daring you to hit outside. Even if you drain a couple what are the odds of you matching them the whole game?
The Magic are excellent defensive rebounders. Many of their offensive misses bounce long or are shot by Dwight Howard with nobody else coming to clean up so they're not a great offensive rebounding unit. But they don't need to be. They turn the ball over a smidge too much but it doesn't burn them most nights.
Keys to the Game
Being realistic this isn't a game the Blazers should win. There's too much need for them to double against Howard and too little capability to rotate or close out when they do so. They're going to have to stop perimeter players with guys who are too big or too small. Their own offensive players haven't always been able to dominate weaker defenders. The #1 plan should be to try and get Howard in foul trouble. When he sits you can start watching those shooters more carefully. Obviously this means some kind of penetration, as Joel Przybilla is unlikely to create problems for Howard on his own. The Blazers have to pick their poison defensively. I don't see any way they can cover everybody. I think in this case my druthers would be to stop the perimeter guys and make Howard beat us. He can go for 50. He can destroy us. But if you're going to take a chance on somebody having a bad night why not go for broke and put your eggs in one basket instead of hoping all of those shooters miss on the same night. Sometimes Howard doesn't get the ball as much as he should in those situations as the other players get impatient. Above all the Blazers have to show energy all night. It's not like they can't hang with this team. They'll just have to put themselves in a position where a few things going right can make a difference. The only way to do that is to play hard all game and see what transpires late.
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