Lakers 31-7 (1st in West), Orlando 31-8 (2nd in East)
Offensive Rating: Lakers: 110.7 (1st), Orlando: 108.1 (5th)
Defensive Rating: Lakers: 101.8 (5th), Orlando: 97.7 (3rd) (Orlando is the only team in the top 5 of both stats besides the Cavs and the Lakers)
Projected Lineups: Lakers- D. Fish, Kobe (Big Cajones) Bryant, Vlad, Pau, Drew Bynum; Orlando- Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard.
Lakers Coming In: Laker fans love to argue about 1) whether Vlad should start, 2) do we need Lamar, and 3) when will Andrew be the player he was evolving into pre-injury. Well, I think Vlad should start because when he is on we don’t lose. In games in which he has 10 points or more, we are cool 10-0. I definitely think we need Lamarski because he does things that help this team win. This is evidenced by his team high +311 for the season (Kobe is second with +281), and since he as come back from injury he has 7 assists and 1 turnover in nearly 60 minutes of action. Last, I see signs of Drew becoming an elite offensive player. In his last 5 games he is averaging 18.2 points on only about 12 shots a game. However, for Drew to be the player he wants to be (a 20-10 guy) and the kind of player the Lakers need to win a title (a defensive anchor), he is going to have to improve his rebounding (only 5.2 per game in those same last 5 games). There have always been whispers about Drew’s motor, so I want everyone tonight to look at Drew’s effort on the boards, not the total number of boards he grabs, but just the effort he puts up against Dwight, it should be telling.
Why Isn’t Orlando On Our Minds: Good friend of the site (and the best thing about the Clippers) Kevin Arnovitz kindly sent along some stats and tidbits about Orlando and our upcoming matchup with them. Looking at those stats and thinking about how well Orlando is playing got me to thinking, we may be worried about the wrong team(s). For the first part of the year we saw many comments about Boston, and lately the comments have been about Cleveland. But how can we leave Orlando out of our waayyyyyy to premature list of fantasy finals opponents. The Magic are making an astounding 10.44 three-pointers per game. Orlando is on pace to set a new NBA record for most made three-pointers in a season. And its not just like the Magic have a good offense, they are in the top 4 in opponent points per game (93.6), opponent field goal % (42.8) and opponent 3pt field goal % (33.7) (the only other teams in the top 4 of these 3 categories is Cleveland).
Three Guys You May Not Hear Much About: 1. Marcin Gortat, leads the NBA in offensive rebound rate at 17.1, he is a guy to keep an eye in the future, as the Magic have the option to put him and Howard into the game at the same time. 2. Courtney Lee (a rookie from Western Kentucky) and 3. JJ Reddick (finally finding his groove), over the last 5 games these two have hit a combined 21-33 from the 3pt line (damn near 64%).
How Did Dwight Howard Get To Take Shaq’s Nickname, While Shaq Is STILL Active: A testament to the great young center’s likeable personality, Shaq has not made any public complaints about Howard getting the moniker of Superman before he retires. Just as the Magic have been overlooked by the mainstream media, Dwight Howard’s individual exploits seem to be slightly ignored. There seems to be a consensus (since freaking early December) that Lebron James is the MVP of the 08-09 season. Besides Kobe and D-Wade, Howard has a claim to be in the argument. He satisfies the Hollinger crowd (3rd in overall rebound rate with a 21.4, 4th in PER with a 26.29), the Nightly Highlights crowd (leading the league in dunks) and makes it easy for the box score lookers to appreciate him with an aesthetically pleasing 20 and 14 a game.
Last Time We Played: The Magic beat the Lakers 106-103 earlier this season on Dec. 20 in Orlando. Kobe Bryant had his season high of 41 points in that game. Sasha got tapped on a late 3pt shot that would have put us up by 2, and we got tagged with our only back-to-back losses of the season. Our backcourt was really all we had going for us last time, as Kobe and Fish combined to drop 68 pts (23-47). However, the rest of the team contributed only 35 pts (13-40). For the Magic, Jameer Nelson had a strong game with 27 points, and Howard anchored them with 18 and 12.
Keys To The Game: Stop Dwight Howard. How does a team do this? Get him away from the hoop. From 5 feet and closer the dude shoots about 65%, but from 6-10 feet he drops all the way down to 42%. This is a big task for Drew and Pau, and they have had to deal with some good/tall/physical bigs this week (Yao and Duncan). Drew will have to fight and use his base to keep Howard from establishing deep post position, especially in transition. Even when Howard gets the ball, the Lakers should not double, at least not in a predicable fashion. Double teaming, combined with the Magic’s great spacing is what creates opportunities for their ridiculously accurate 3pt attempts. Also, the Magic will run a lot of pick and roll/pop, down-screens and baseline screens, all to create open 3’s. We may want to try to go over the top of some of these screens in an effort to chase their shooters off the 3pt line and contest shots. This will require disciplined close-outs, something we have had trouble with in the past. Moreover, Nelson is a deadly 51+% on 2pt jumpers. When Nelson is involved in the pick and roll, we cannot go underneath, but we can’t help off other people, because he will find them. I guess that means we try to give him the CP3 treatment and force him into the teeth of our defense, but we must always be leery of the lob to Howard. When we are on offense we should obviously try to get Howard into foul trouble. Drew has been playing really well of late, and this could be a big game for him on both ends of the court. Also, Pau should have an advantage against Lewis on the offensive end (although Lewis is a matchup problem on the other end, so we may see a lot of LO tonight), we should really make the effort to use our bigs on offense this game. One other thing the Lakers may want to keep in mind is that Howard is a bad free-throw shooter. He takes the most in the league (10.9 per game) but only makes 58.1% of them. Will Phil go to a Hack-a-Howard if we are involved in a close game in the 4th quarter? What do you guys think about such a tactic?
When/Where To Watch: 7:30 pst, 10:30 est, 3:30 a.m. (Sat.) for long-time FBG’er Renato in Spain; ESPN (national), FSN West (local), Palms Sports Book with a margarita (Kurt).
Update: Luke and Sasha are probable for tonight’s game, hopefully giving the Lakers the type of depth they enjoyed earlier in the season.
– Kwame A.