Preview and Chat: The Orlando Magic

Kurt —  February 8, 2008

Records: Lakers 31-16 (5 seed); Magic 32-19 (3 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (5th); Magic 112.2 (7th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (7th); Magic) 107.5 (12th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Magic: Carlos Arroyo (although maybe Jameer Nelson, who has been playing well), Mo Evans, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard

Lakers Notes: Kobe is going to play tonight against Orlando, even through he stated his recently dislocated pinky finger on his shooting hand is bothering him (obviously, he is 7 for 27 from the field in the last two games). However, his participation in All Star weekend and the three-point shooting contest is up in the air. I hope he recovers, I really wanted to see him in that.

The question the Lakers need to answer for themselves in about 8 days is: Do we keep DJ Mbenga for the rest of this season? My gut feeling is yes. Bynum isn’t back for about six weeks, so we still need a backup big, and even when Bynum is back we may want another large body to spend some time on the Yao Mings of the world. He’s cheap and a decent post defender — he is a +2.9 per 48 minutes and has held opposing centers to a PER of 11.8 so far this season. You could look at other options, but he’s starting to know the system and has done what you ask of him off the bench. My meaningless vote is to keep him.

We’re big in Brazil Well, apparently. I don’t speak Portuguese, but Gustavo, the very nice NBA blogger at the official NBA site for Brazil asked me a few questions about the Gasol trade then used them and thoughts from other bloggers in this post. Regular commenter and poster here Gatinho actually speaks Portuguese, and has a Brazilian wife (which should make you jealous — have you seen Brazilian women?) and he and his wife gave us a translation:

Our friend Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold agrees with Ryan (from Hoopsaddict) and thinks that the Lakers have become a force in the West no matter what happens. “Over the next few years they will be the best team in the NBA, at least on paper,” says the beat writer for the Lakers.

There’s a question whether the arrival of a new star would affect Kobe’s ego, Kurt answered directly, “When Kobe was asked after the Nets game how he felt about only scoring 6 points but getting the victory, he had a big smile that we haven’t seen in years and said, ‘You have no idea.’”

It seems that finally things are coming together in the City of Angels.

Well, we’ll let the beat writer thing slide. Gatinho added he likes the blog — “His blog is actually pretty good. He talks about the Golden Globes and the Cohen brothers.”

The Magic Coming In: Third seed in the East, starting Mo Evans — what is going on in Orlando? To get a few answers, I posed a few questions to Ben Q. Rock at the quality Third Quarter Collapse blog (and I answered a few Qs on his site):

Since the trade from the Lakers, how have Brian Cook and Mo Evans fit into the Magic? Do they fit in any long-term plans?

The idea behind the trade was to improve three-point shooting and depth at power forward; Cook was the featured player because of his size, but Evans has contributed far more. He’s started the last 15 games for the Magic (an 16 overall), averaging 10.9 points and shooting .547 from the field. File him under “S” for “Surprises, Pleasant.” Cook only recently cracked the rotation, languishing on the bench for two months because he wasn’t in good enough shape. His production is spotty at best, and he does not play defense, as you’re well aware. Honestly, I think the trade was worth it, if only because Cook nailed three big treys in the third quarter in the win against Boston which ended on a Turkoglu buzzer-beating triple. Getting that win alone was worth it. Evans’ contract ends at the end of the season, and I don’t get the sense the Magic are interested in keeping him. He was basically a throw-in, and he’s taking minutes away from J.J. Redick. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but the Magic tend to disagree because there’s going to be a riot of angry Duke fans and 12-year-old girls if J.J. keeps getting DNP-CDs. It’d definitely be a shame to see Evans go. Other Magic fans agree, as you can see in this thread on the MagicMadness forums. Nearly everyone who has responded thinks the Magic should retain him. He’s one of the few players we have who plays hard every second of every game. Cook has another three years on his deal, so he’s probably not going anywhere. If the Magic get a power forward with actual power forward skills, Cook will be valuable as a specialist. But as the first power forward off the bench? That’s gonna be ugly.

In his eighth year in the league, Hedo Turkoglu is suddenly playing his best basketball. His shooting, rebounding, assists are all much better than his career average, and in the last couple weeks he has been nearly Dwight Howard good. What is he doing right?

Turk is succeeding because Stan Van Gundy has freed him. Under Brian Hill last season, he was basically a spot-up shooter, rarely handling the ball or taking it to the basket; last season, 77% of his attempts were jumpers, compared to just 70% this season. This year, with the Magic’s point guards struggling, Turk has taken over the role of facilitator. He runs the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard better than anyone else on the team, and the fact that he’s 6’10” makes it almost impossible to defend.

Half a season in, how do you view the Rashard Lewis trade?

Lewis’ scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage have taken significant dips this season. He’s not much of a defender. He’s grossly overpaid. Yet I’m still happy with the trade because his presence opens up the middle for Dwight Howard, who is scoring better than ever. Yeah, he’s overpaid, but he’s also Rashard Lewis, and he also drills open threes. Are you really going to leave him open to double Dwight? Part of the numbers downturn is due to him playing out of position. He’s a power forward in name only. He’s not used to being defended by bigger, stronger guys; likewise, he’s not used to defending bigger, stronger guys, so he’s probably pretty worn-out. Oddly enough, he did a damn good job defending Dirk Nowitzki (!) the other night. Where Lewis kills us is on the boards. As I pointed out in a recent post about why the Magic need a “true” power forward, Lewis is 54th out of 55 players at that position in rebound rate. At some point, either by the trading deadline or over the summer, we’ll get a “true” power forward to put alongside Dwight. That’d move Lewis to the 3 and Turkoglu to the 2. The mismatch possibilities are pretty fun to think about. Not many teams have the size to guard four guys 6’10” or taller playing at the same time.

When talking about contenders in the East, most people bring up Boston and Detroit, then Cleveland as a darkhorse. Should Orlando be in that conversation for this season? Why? And how do you see the team growing in the next three or four years?

No, I don’t think we’re quite ready to join that conversation just yet. From a talent standpoint, yes, we belong there. It’s hard to argue that Cleveland, even with LeBron James, has a deeper or more talented roster than we do. However, no one will take us seriously until we have a few playoff series under our belts. Sobering fact: the last time we won a playoff series, Bill Clinton was running for re-election. Given that long drought, it’s fair to exclude us. Then again, Toronto legitimized itself pretty quickly last year. We’re talented enough to duplicate that. Going forward, I feel good about our chances to seriously contend. Dwight Howard is only going to get better. He’s only 22 and he’s already one of the best centers in the game. Turkoglu and Lewis are in their primes. Boston and Detroit are getting older, although Detroit’s youngsters (Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson in particular) scare me. Toronto and Cleveland will probably be up there, too, but we can hang with them. We just need more time and an upgrade at power forward. Point guard is a bit of a concern — does anyone think Jameer Nelson, who turns 26 on Saturday, can lead this team to an NBA title? — but Turkoglu’s ballhanding skills neutralize it. Overall, I like our chances of at least making the Finals during the Howard/Lewis/Nelson era, and even beyond. Did I mention Dwight is only 22?

Keys To The Game: Right now the Magic provide a difficult defensive challenge for the Lakers. Without Bynum the Lakers have nobody who can begin to slow Howard on the block (no offense to Pau here, but low-block post defense is not his forté). I expect DJ Mbenga may get some extended run tonight.

The other problem is that the Magic have a lot of very good three-point shooters starting with Nelson, Lewis and Turk. We have in the past talk about the Lakers tendency to sag off the three-point shooters to protect the paint (Odom, we’re looking right at you) and if the Lakers do that tonight it could rain threes. Also, the Lakers need to play smart on the high screen-and-roll with Howard and Turk — Howard rolls fast and gets deep position down on the block, and if you let him get that spot it’s too late to do anything. He is a beast. Also, the Lakers need to focus on rebounding and not let Howard get a lot of offensive boards and easy putbacks.

On offense, Pau needs to make Howard work hard, drag him out of the paint with his midrange game and open things up some. Also, Kobe can’t really have another of those horrific shooting nights — Mo Evans is a nice player but Kobe should get his in that matchup. Another big night from Odom is needed as well.

Where you can watch: Another of those annoying delayed television broadcasts in Los Angeles. I can’t wait for that to end. Anyway, 4 pm start but 5:30 television in LA (KCAL 9 — which means news promos through the game blatantly targeting men). Nationally, you’ll need the League Pass.