What the Magic do well: Three-point shooting
The Orlando Magic are a frustrating team to watch. They have the potential — with their bevy of three-point snipers — to be a difficult team to consistently stop. The Magic make about 10 three-pointers per game, good for first in the NBA. When they make seven or more, they are 27-11. Maintaining solid rotations to Magic shooters (Ryan Anderson, Jameer Nelson, J.J Redick, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu make more than one three-pointer per game) and preventing Dwight Howard down in the low block is incredibly difficult.
But when their shots are not falling, they are a team bereft of offensive identity. Howard is a dominant basketball player and is truly the last of his kind, a physically dominating big man. Without a crafty, ethereal post game. He has shown some noticeable improvement (remember when his only legitimate move was a running hook shot?) but still not enough to pose a consistently difficult matchup for tough interior defenders. In the fourth quarter, his poor free throw shooting essentially hampers the Magic to playing four-on-five offensively. Howard becomes a mere spectator — albeit one that can still make a difference defensively. According to Basketball Value, the Magic allow 100.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court compared to 107 without Dwight. That seems to offset his offensive deficiencies.
What the Magic do badly: Streakiness
Hey, I think I may have invented a new word! More than almost any other NBA team, Orlando is capable of making a deep run in the playoffs or completely busting out to the Atlanta Hawks. Their three-point tendency lends them to inconsistent, “streakiness” basketball. That sentence didn’t make any sense but neither do the Magic. In the week of Jan. 23 through Jan. 30, the Magic played awful basketball. They managed to score 57 points against the Boston Celtics (.246 FG%). Four nights later, they only scored 67 against the New Orleans Hornets (.393 FG%). That win snapped the Hornets nine game losing streak. They’ve won six games since their win over Orlando. They weren’t done, however. Orlando turned in their final poor performance against the Philadelphia 76ers. They allowed only 74 points but even that minuscule amount was good enough to win; the Magic scored 69 (.333 FG%). In that six game stretch (five losses, one win), Orlando averaged 77 points per game. I guess it was no surprise that they had almost no success from beyond the arc either: they averaged 5.3 three-pointers per game and a .323 3P%.
Unfortunately, the Spurs are catching the Magic during a really good stretch of basketball. The Magic are 14-6 in their last 20 games (7-3 in last 10). Following a narrow three point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Magic have beaten the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. Again, three-point shooting was key in their success. Orlando averaged 11.3 three-pointers.
Some pundits would contend that inconsistency would actually be preferable in instances when your talent is inferior. That philosophy has it’s merits: Orlando is already at a disadvantage so, on nights when their offense is flowing, they increase their chances to win. If they don’t, well, they were supposed to lose. In that case, then I guess inconsistency could be Orlando’s secret weapon.
Matchup to watch: Dwight Howard vs. Spurs bigs
I’m running a little long so I’ll keep it short and simple. The presence of Howard is undeniable. His seven foot frame and unheralded athleticism, alone, deters any intelligent basketball player from penetrating to the rim. Now that wouldn’t affect the Spurs too much … but we have Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They thrive on defensive breakdowns and sound pick-and-roll play. Their ability to get to the rim with relative impunity is one of their most advantageous threats and, as a result, a huge part of the Spurs offense. In terms of defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), Dwight has led the league since the 2008-09 season. The Magic are second in preventing shots at the rim. That doesn’t sound good.
Well, that went on longer than I had anticipated. Sorry about that.
(Editor’s note: Please respectfully disregard all my Howard analysis if he indeed gets traded before the tip off.
Final verdict: Spurs by six
The Magic are coming off an intense overtime victory over the Heat. I’m not sure if they’ll come to the AT&T Center with the requisite attention to the detail that you need to deter the Spurs offense. Plus, the Spurs should be well rested. Only Tony played more than 30 minutes against the Washington Wizards. Spurs by six.
Topics: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, Indiana Pacers, J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Manu Ginobili, Miami Heat, New Orleans Hornets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Ryan Anderson, San Antonio Spurs, Tony Parker, Washington Wizards