In the NBA any team can beat any other team on a given night.
Just keep repeating that, because it's the only justification you're going to find for the Orlando Magic beating the Portland Trail Blazers tonight. Assuming you count the current incarnation of the Magic as an actual NBA team, that is. You could probably find justification for not. They were already kind of thin in the wake of Dwight Howard's departure and injuries have pared them down even further. They've lost 11 straight now, slipping below the once-pathetic Washington Wizards and heading into Charlotte territory in the contest for the worst team in the league.
Let's give them some benefit of the doubt, however. They have a couple nice players still healthy. The most intriguing (and probably most dangerous to the Blazers) is center Nikola Vucevic.
OK, time out. Anyone else notice that international players have taken over the center position in this league? I mean, Vucevic is only the second-best-known Nikola at his position. We ought to come up with an NBA big man song, like to the tune of Jingle Bells or something.
Nikola, Nikola, Kosta, Timofey...Marcin, Omer, Tiago, Enes and Nene...HEY!
With all of these centers free-floating around the globe, you'd think the Blazers could get their hands on, you know, ONE. Is that too much to ask??? But anyway, back to the preview now.
Vucevic dropped 25 and 13 on the Cavaliers in Orlando's last game. He's getting more and more touches and he's legit. Of course his 7'0", 240lbs would already make him legit against Portland, but the extra juice in the tank could make this a long night for J.J. Hickson and company.
Shooting guard Aron Afflalo's numbers have gone in the tank this season. He's gone from 47% shooting to 44%, 40% at the arc to 34.5%, an offensive rating of 116 down to 103. On most teams that would make him a bust. In Orlando it's made him their leading scorer. Unfortunately the holes in his defensive game haven't cleared up. The same is true in general of point guard Jameer Nelson, though his percentages have declined over a five-year span instead of dropping quickly like Afflalo's. On any other team he's average. In Orlando he looks like a key component.
J.J. Redick has had an amazing season off the bench but he's nursing an injured shoulder. His absence greatly reduces the fear factor of Orlando's bench...like from a 4.5 out of 10 to flat-out 0. For once Portland's miserable corps of reserves shouldn't find themselves overmatched...the caveat being that, like the Blazers, the Magic play their starters high minutes. Glen "Big Baby" Davis is not among those starters, however. He's injured as well. Rookie Andrew Nicholson sometimes makes a splash at power forward in Davis' place.
The Magic have scored over 100 only 3 times in their 11-game losing streak. They've also finished 3 games with fewer than 80 points, including a 61-point effort against Philadelphia last week, 7 of their 11 most recent opponents have topped 100 themselves. They can't score and they're not great defenders. That makes winning difficult. The only places they're remotely dangerous are (occasionally) in the paint when their bigs get rolling and defending the three-point arc. If the Blazers run any kind of offense and keep a modicum of integrity defensively the Magic won't have the horsepower to stay with them. Talent, skill, even depth and experience all run Portland's way. How many times have we been able to say that this season.
Even though this game is on the road in an unfamiliar time zone in the middle of a long trip, the only way the Blazers lose this game is through inattention and a lack of spirit. That's the shadow-side of the "Any team can beat any other team" statement. The other team has to come in flat, take the game lightly, and not wake up until it's too late. If the Blazers do that, shame on them. Otherwise it's a 2-2 road trip and we head to the next game.
OrlandoPinstripedPost has the honor of covering the Magic this year.
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