Orlando Magic (13-26) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (28-8)
Saturday, January 10
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Magic: Aaron Gordon
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The Blazers hope to end their seven-game homestand with a 6-1 record when they host the Orlando Magic tonight at the Moda Center.
The Magic are coming off a loss to the Lakers in L.A. last night, putting them at 13-26 overall for the season and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Portland got off to a slow start against the Heat on Thursday, but eventually blew the game open in the third quarter and cruised to a 99-83 victory in which no starter logged more than 33 minutes.
Consistent execution on both sides of the ball is lacking for Orlando, a team that starts two 24-year-olds, two 22-year-olds and a 20-year-old. Coach Jacque Vaughn typically plays an 11-man rotation and has his most experienced players -- big man Channing Frye, as well as guards Luke Ridnour and Ben Gordon -- coming off the bench.
The Magic have the second-worst Offensive Rating in the NBA the last couple weeks, according to NBA.com. Perhaps surprisingly, this youthful Orlando squad rarely struggles with turnovers. Even so, the Magic don't push the tempo, don't shoot with consistency from anywhere on the court and are unable to pass the ball particularly well, leaving them at No. 12 in the Eastern Conference and 13 games below .500.
Orlando's defense -- like many young, athletic teams -- forces plenty of turnovers, but those rarely lead to a decided advantage for the team as the interior defense is mediocre and the perimeter defense is even more suspect. The Magic do a solid job of playing the passing lanes and they often dictate the tempo, but they foul a lot and have a very difficult time putting together a wire-to-wire, 48-minute effort on a nightly basis. The starting backcourt of rookie point guard Elfrid Payton and sophomore shooting guard Victor Oladipo has been ruthlessly stealing the ball from the opposition lately, averaging a combined 5.2 steals per game the last five. Unfortunately, Orlando's rim protection is average at best and teams have built big leads on the Magic recently as they're prone to allowing scoring in bunches for opponents.
Starting center Nikola Vucevic, a legit 7-footer, has hit over half his shots in the paint the last several games and is also a threat from 15-20 feet out. He almost never turns it over and has a few bankable post moves, but he doesn't draw many fouls and relies on his jumper a little more than some fans might prefer.
According to NBA.com SportVU stats, the Magic average the fourth-most drives to the rim per game (31.1), though they struggle to finish at the rim. Oladipo has as many drives per contest this year as Blazers point guard Damian Lillard -- 9.4 -- but he is not converting as well. His three-point shooting is up to 40 percent this year, though, and he hardly looks for his own shot in the midrange.
Starting small forward Tobias Harris is having a solid season but his production has dipped slightly lately. He's an excellent finisher inside and sticks the corner-three with regularity, making half his total three-pointers the last five games. He had an off-night shooting against the Lakers yesterday, but he's generally pretty reliable offensively.
Payton is much more of a distributor than a shooter, and he seems to understand his role in Vaughn's offense. He doesn't score well from anywhere on the court, but he doesn't force many shots, either, and has racked up 7.4 assists per game the last five. Starting power forward Kyle O'Quinn also isn't a great scorer, but like Payton, doesn't look for his own shot often at all.
Orlando's bench does not produce points with much regularity and lacks a true scoring sixth-man. Lately, wing Evan Fournier has gotten up the most shots of the reserves, but his shooting percentages have been abysmal and he's had some issues with turnovers. Forward Andrew Nicholson has shot reasonably well the last few games but it's far from a large enough sample-size to draw much from and he's been up-and-down this season.
Frye, in 29.5 minutes per game the last five, is mostly a three-point shooter and has hit 40.6 percent of his outside attempts in that span. Last night in L.A., he sank 2-of-3 long-range shots. Ridnour had been unable to score much recently until he went 5-of-10 against the Lakers last night for 12 points. Center Dewayne Dedmon will likely get a handful of backup minutes but isn't likely to look for his own offense much.
Portland's offense has been pretty solid recently, as power forward LaMarcus Aldridge continues his role as the workhorse for the team and point guard Damian Lillard steps up in big moments. The team is shooting a ton of three-pointers and making them at a high percentage, with decent ball movement helping to provide open looks around the perimeter. The offense isn't flowing as well as usual, though, but that's to be expected with injuries hitting the team pretty hard recently, as centers Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland are out for extended time and wings Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are banged-up with various maladies. Reserve guard Allen Crabbe is also dealing with an injury -- a strained left knee making him doubtful for tonight's game.
The Blazers have benefited recently from a home-heavy schedule since Christmas that's been dotted with weaker opponents. That said, the defense has been up to the task and has carried the team at times, as Portland has the NBA's fifth-best Defensive Rating the last couple weeks and the third-best for the season, according to NBA.com. The Blazers have shut down easy ball movement for opponents lately and have only allowed teams to shoot 18.8 three-pointers per game the last five, giving up a league-best 25.5 percent from deep.
The defense within the arc has been almost as solid in that same span, with opponents shooting just 40.8 percent from the floor, good for the No. 4 ranking in the NBA. That type of production may not be sustainable in the long-term, but emergency starting center Chris Kaman -- who is more than serviceable -- has been a reliable stop-gap in place of Lopez and Freeland the last couple games and has had more time to practice with the starting unit the last week.
Aldridge bludgeoned the Heat with 24 points on 11-for-20 shooting, indicative of his play of late that's seen upticks in his scoring in the paint. He's shooting from the midrange with less accuracy, but he's going at the rim with more regularity and hitting almost two-thirds of those attempts inside the last several games. The Magic have size and length in the frontcourt but a dearth of experience and likely don't have the talent to match up with Aldridge for a full game.
Lillard didn't shoot well against Miami and he's been a pretty average shooter the last several games overall, other than a 39-point outburst against the Lakers. He's attempted over eight three-pointers a game the last five but has made less than a third of them, though his scoring has come at opportune times and he's able to find teammates for points when his shot's not falling.
Matthews, who's playing on a sore knee, hit 3-of-5 threes and 6-of-10 shots overall against the Heat on Thursday. He's rarely put up shots inside the paint recently but has converted on many of those attempts, most of his production coming from beyond the arc, where he's nailed 40.2 percent of his field goals the last five games. Batum can't seem to string together consecutive games where he plays well offensively, and the struggles continued Thursday night when he made just three of his 10 shots and missed all four of his threes. He picked up four assists, which was promising, but Blazers fans are left wondering if he's going to find his stride this year and get back to being a dangerous secondary scorer for the team.
Kaman is still feeling his way out with the starting unit, his aggressive tactics causing the ball to stop early in the game when he looks for his own offense. When he's coach Terry Stotts' lead reserve, Kaman's offense is welcomed and practically necessary off the bench, but in the starting lineup, he's the fourth option. His shooting hasn't been that great lately, but Kaman can be a streaky scorer and can go to the rim strong with either hand, a skill that should be useful against the youthful Magic.
With Crabbe likely out tonight because of a knee strain, guard Steve Blake will likely be the first backcourt player off the bench. He played 19 productive minutes against the Heat on Thursday, hitting three of his six shots and racking up five assists, but he's passed up a fair amount of good looks the last several games and might need to be slightly more aggressive to keep the defense honest. Wings Will Barton and CJ McCollum both failed to hit a shot against Miami, but Stotts may go to both earlier on tonight with Crabbe doubtful.
Forward Thomas Robinson hasn't forced many shots recently, a good sign that he's playing within the offense and shooting only when open or given a solid look from the defense. Forward Dorell Wright has seen inconsistent playing time all season, but he's been a serviceable wing and stretch-four at the end of the rotation when called upon. Big man Meyers Leonard has shown spurts of promise recently, and he'll likely get a nice helping of minutes tonight with Portland's frontcourt depth lacking.
Orlando is not a great rebounding team on either side of the ball, and Vucevic's normally strong performances on the glass have been fewer and farther between lately. He pulled in 11 last night against the Lakers, though, and is always a threat, particularly on the defensive end. As a team, the Magic were crushed on the boards by L.A., 60-36, and gave up 18 offensive rebounds. Portland has Aldridge, Kaman and Leonard -- who has contributed inspired outputs on the glass lately -- to match up with the Magic's frontcourt, and should be able to maintain a hefty edge if the effort and execution are both there tonight.
Orlando shouldn't provide a huge challenge for the Blazers at home, but Oladipo and Vucevic can be a potent scoring tandem and have skills that can exploit Portland's defense when things are going well for them. Don't forget the 95-85 win they picked up over a lifeless Blazers squad last March, either, which snapped a nine-game losing streak at the time. Watch for Oladipo to attack the rim hard and Vucevic to draw post defenders out of the lane with his jumpshooting ability. Portland's defense has played well lately, however, and the offense should be able to find ways to score tonight if the ball is moving effective and efficiently.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
(Note: This preview was started with the Magic-Lakers game still in progress last night, and all cumulative stats are from Orlando's previous five games unless otherwise stated).