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Preview and Chat: The Orlando Magic

Big Test. Great new blog post by Roland Lazenby this morning, which is a must read for you Derek Fisher fans out there. But for my purposes I’ll just excerpt the part about tonight’s game:

Now the Lakers face a huge test, a moment of truth, in their efforts to rebuild into a championship contender. Are they going to fall apart? Or will they find the toughness and leadership to hang together during hard times?

“What happens in these next two games is pretty important,” Winter told me Tuesday, the day after L.A.’s fiasco against the Miami Heat. “You have to see how they respond, how they come back.”

If Dwyane Wade is a god… What does that make Dwight Howard? Rather than my feeble attempts to wax poetic about him, I’ll let a much better writer than myself, Eric Neel, heap on the praise:

“You think he knows how good he is?” I asked a friend sitting next to me (at a Magic/Sonics game). “You think he has any idea how good he can be?”

He’s just a baby, barely 21, so maybe he doesn’t realize it. He’s quiet and unassuming, so maybe it hasn’t occurred to him. He has all the respect in the world for the esteemed Mr. Grant Hill, so perhaps he defers.

But if it’s starting to dawn on him … if, at 17.1 points and 12.7 rebounds a night, Dwight Howard is getting an inkling, the league had better look out. Because with all the ink we’ve been spilling on LeBron, Carmelo and Dwyane Wade, this is the guy who can truly dominate. This is the guy who can shred the scenery. This is the unstoppable force. This is the man.

Pound it inside? Against Miami the Lakers decided early to take the ball right at Alonzo Mourning, to pound the aging center inside. The results were a lot of blocks, changed shots and foul trouble for the Lakers.

Tonight they get Howard. Do the Lakers challenge him inside or try to go after weaker spots on the perimeter first? I’d say you’ve still got to get Kwame some early touches, but this will be a key game for Cook and Radmanovic to get theirs by dragging the Battie and Darko away from their comfort zone near the rim. That would also help create driving lanes for a hopefully healthier Kobe.

Orlando has cooled off. The Magic are the two seed in the East right now but are just 3-7 in their last 10.

The reason for the cooling is the quick guard combo of Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo has gone cold. For the season Nelson is shooting 51.1% (eFG%) but in the last 10 that has fallen to 36.7%, his three point shooting has fallen from a not-good 31.5% to an abysmal 17.6%.

Arroyo’s shooting has fallen to 39.4% in the last 10 — and just 10% from beyond the arc — but he continues to shoot the ball like he has the hot hand. The only two players on the Magic who have taken more shots in the last 10 games are named Hill and Howard (and they both play 10 more minutes a game).

It’s not just the guards. Orlando has been a poor offensive team all season, with the 24th-ranked offensive rating in the league (104.2 points per 100 possessions, 5.6 behind the Lakers). What hurts them is they turn the ball over more than any other team in the league — yes, even the Lakers. Hard to believe but it’s true. The Magic turn the ball over on 19.8% of their possessions, worse than the Lakers 18.4 (that makes the Lakers 27th in the league).

Former Bruin looking good. While the guards have slumped, Trevor Ariza has looked good in his last 10 games, shooting 57.1% and averaging double digit scoring per game. He also can grab some rebounds, if Howard lets him.

Things to look for: Who controls the glass? Dwight Howard is a rebounding machine, leading the league grabbing 21.4% of all available rebounds when he is on the floor. And a lot of those are on the offensive end, which is why the Magic are the fifth-best offensive rebounding team in the league right now grabbing 29.8% of their missed shots (the Lakers grab 26.8%, which is middle of the pack). Turaif has spark but the Lakers need UPS and Bynum to put a body on Howard and somehow keep him from dominating the glass. More than just the bigs, the rebounding must be a team focus for the Lakers.

Two turnover prone teams, if one of them can curb that nasty habit for a night they take a big step forward.

Nelson and Arroyo are off their games right now, but also are the kind of quick guards that have given the Lakers fits. Good perimeter defense, and smart rotations by the bigs are needed so they don’t heat up.

Besides Howard, the bulk of the scoring comes from the rejuvenated Grant Hill, who is driving into the lane for 40% of his shots and still shooting 42.6% on his jumpers. Kobe and Evans will get the task, and making him less efficient will be key.

The Laker defense needs to step up tonight, this is a team that can be slowed down if the Lakers come out with more defensive energy than we saw on Christmas. On offense, cutters in the lane and sharp inside passing can at least limit the damage the long arms of Howard can do — go right at him and it may be a repeat of Christmas day. Plus, the Lakers need a healthy and sharper Kobe in this one.

Reader Interactions


  1. By the way, Maggette for Artest? Apparently it’s close. It would be cool if they made the trade today or tomorrow, then the two dressed for the other team when the Clips and Kings play Friday night.


  2. I’m liking this trade. The Clippers would benefit greatly from Artest’s defensive presence. Especially the way their defense has been this season. And I’d love to see Maggette and Martin play together. That combo could be explosive.


  3. I wish smush would play like he did in the 2nd half all the time. And Bynum VS Howard is the premier center matchup in the NBA 2 years from now.


  4. Orlando was predicted to win. Lakers won impressively.

    Let’s not start planning a championship celebration quite yet, but . . .

    it’s time to have fun comparing the predictions of the “experts” (including some of us) with reality.

    Chris Mihm had season threatening surgery. Then Kwame went down. Kobe recovered slow. Radman seriously injured his hand. Even before the injuries, the Lakers had been “ranked” near the bottom of their division, well below the Clippers.

    With Andrew Bynum at center and Kobe on the bench, the Lakers reeled off impressive “team” wins to start the season with a Lamar Odom that seemed “all world” and a “new” Luke Walton. Though still not entirely recovered, Kobe gradually made his presence felt. Kwame came back still injured, Radmanovic played with an injured hand, and the Lakers mostly won.

    According to accepted opinion, the Lakers are not at the level of Phoenix, Utah, or especially San Antonio–but the Lakers beat them all. 14 straight wins by Phoenix finally moved them past the Lakers–but only by a game and 1/2.

    According to the “experts,” revising their projections on the fly, this was all expected because the Lakers played most of their games at home. That was about the time that the Lakers lost Odom. The critics conveniently predicted a disasterous road trip that would lead the Lakers back to the .500 or so record that was their pedigree.

    MEMO to the “experts”: the Lakers are still winning!

    Will they beat the lowly undermanned Bobcats? I’m not about to forecast anything. I’m too happy watching the “experts” eat crow instead of turkey for the Holidays.

    When Smush steps up and knocks down 20, the Lakers have got an engine firing on all five cylinders.


  5. Last night marked the first time that a Kobe block on a breakaway layup happened in a game we won. The prior three times he has done that (I think that’s the most I’ve ever seen him do in a season) the team still managed to lose. Not tonight…good stuff.


  6. #5. Theres just one explanation for that, the media DOES NOT RESPECT the Lakers, Kobe, Phil and everyone associated with the team. Especially Kobe, He’s playing with one good knee all season, has 4-40pt games, 1-50pt game and some more in the 30’s and what do you hear from them? he’s old, lost a step, and all a bunch of crap. Meanwhile they heap praises upon wade, carmelo, and lebron, saying its an off-night if they don’t play well and declare one of them the “next dominant force” when they score in the 30’s for a couple of games. Kobe scored 40+ in 5+ games last season and what do you hear? “he’s a ballhog!” Arenas scores 60 on the lakers and what do they say? “he simply dominated the lakers” while kobe scores 81 and they say “yea, if i took that many shots, i’ll get that too”. I can’t understand it… but the worst part of all is in the MVP balloting, where Kobe is a couple of votes from getting the most 1st-place votes, yet he’s not even in the ballots of half of the voters and finishes 4th! Maybe when the lakers get the championship they’ll attribute it to “pure luck” and to an unusual off-season by wade, carmelo and lebron. F–K the media! lets just keep supporting our team!


  7. not throw cold water on the under-dog motif, but i have a hard time buying the “nobody respects the Lakers” line of thinking.

    fact is, for most of the season, we’ve been ranked 1-7 in most power ranking polls. frankly, that’s where we should be ranked at this point.

    i do buy the line that kobe gets too little respect, given how good he is, but that seems to have changed a bit this year also.

    also, andrew bynum gets more respect than he deserves at this point (and kwame too little respect).


  8. 3. Ian, it was Kwame. Bynum was on him for a little of the late first quarter/early second, but after that Phil matched Kwame and Howard up.


  9. And, while I love what this Laker team is doing, beating Phoenix, Utah, Dallas or San Antonio in a game is one thing, beating them in a best-of-seven playoff series is another. I’ll wait to see how all the teams look in March first.


  10. Most of Bynum’s minutes were against Darko. Andrew seemed to score well on Darko, but the reverse was true as well.


  11. Xperts, shmexperts–

    From my unacademic perspective
    the pundits have been wrong in their pre-season
    forecasts in every sport for the past five years,
    whether it was predicting a Detroit dynasty
    to a Phil Mickleson emergence to the Romo phenomenon.

    But they get to ride the wave on successive telecasts
    and change their picks so they look like they were right
    by the end of the season.

    There seem to be two main camps–
    the Trendoids that want to be the first
    to spot the next big thing
    ( notice now how much attention Gilbert Arenas is getting )

    and the Fort Old Schoolers
    that declare that everything has gone downhill
    after “fill-in-the-blank” retired.

    Either way, not enough appreciation, I feel,
    is given to the consistent current players,
    not just the superstars.

    These “second-tier” ( if you will ) players
    are actually the ones that really shape the memories
    one has of the team that you follow — Goodrich, Coop,
    AC, Rambis, Threatt, Eddie, Horry, DFish, and so on,
    and they’re the ones that keep the team going
    when someone like Lamar is down.

    If the pundits pay attention to the consistency
    of those players, their prognostications might themselves
    be more consistent throughout the season.

    Then again, aren’t they for entertainment purposes only?

    Also, Lakers Line callers and Money Smith
    discussed the referees last night, and it strikes me odd
    that the NBA refs, after going through the work strike
    some years ago, seem to be progressively worse
    in performance.

    I certainly can’t tell who the new ones are,
    and I’m disappointed to see V Palmer was
    the only woman to stay the pro ranks.

    There seems to be some strange things going on
    in the Association, whre the commissioner is
    willing to tinker with the players– shipping them off
    to play international tours possibly to the detriment
    of their season, changing equip and dress and comportment codes, but the refs don’t seem to have
    the same prodding to stay sharp.

    Contrary to not affecting the outcome of the game,
    the refs can very much turn momentum and disrupt
    the flow, especially for young teams who might tend
    to roll on energy more than strategy.

    – 5 –