Tonight's Game: Orlando Magic at Houston Rockets

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UPDATE: Two Three things.

  1. All subsequent Dwight Howard / Yao Ming discussion goes here.

  2. Mickael Pietrus is out tonight due to a sprained right knee. Stan Van Gundy is not pleased:

    "It's a frustrating thing for him and a frustrating thing for us," Van Gundy said.

    Can't say that I blame him.

  3. Anthony Johnson's ironman streak will end, as he suffered a bruised cornea in practice due to--you guessed it--Dwight Howard. A.J. had played in all the Magic's prior games this season.

No GameThread comments at all tonight. Earlier, I said I'd clean 'em up and re-open this thread. That's changed. I'm going to relax during the game. After the game, I'll delete the offending comments and issue warnings.

Onward:

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Orlando Magic main logo
@
Houston Rockets main logo
57-19 49-28
April 7th, 2009
Toyota Center
8:30 PM
FSN Florida
Probable starters:
Rafer Alston PG Aaron Brooks
Courtney Lee SG Shane Battier
Hedo Turkoglu SF Ron Artest
Rashard Lewis PF Luis Scola
Dwight Howard C Yao Ming
Previous Meetings:
November 22nd: Rockets 100, Magic 95

As Brian Schmitz noted yesterday, the Orlando Magic's game against the Houston Rockets tonight is their last one of the season against a playoff-bound team, and will provide their final chance to work against top-flight NBA competition (with no disrespect intended to the Grizzlies, Nets, Knicks, Bucks, and Bobcats). Understandably, the Rockets are also gearing-up for the playoffs themselves, a task made all the more important due to the San Antonio Spurs' loss of Manu Ginobili for the season. Currently, Houston stands only a half-game back of San Antonio for the third seed in the West, so the Rockets have every incentive to try to move up.

The Rockets, I believe, present particular problems for the Magic, and as such I am very curious to see how Orlando handles them. Chief among these is the way they're able to handle Dwight Howard. And by "they're," I mean, "Yao Ming is." The statistics are jarring: In 8 head-to-head matchups with Yao, Dwight has averaged a measly 12.1 points on 45.1% shooting to go with 9.8 rebounds. Those numbers aren't affected by much "noise" either, as he's never scored more than 21 points or grabbed more than 12 rebounds. And this is to say nothing of the degree to which Yao improves his game against Howard. If the Magic can get their offense running in spite of Howard's career-long struggles against Yao, they should be in pretty good shape.

The operative word in that last sentence is "running." Houston plays at a relatively slow pace and struggles to score in transition, averaging a league-worst 8.9 fast-break points per game. To be fair, their fast-break defense is above-average (13th), but the Magic should nonetheless look to get off to the races, whenever possible, especially against Houston's unathletic power-position tandem of Yao and Luis Scola.

But back to the Magic's offense, which is our primary concern because Houston's offense (15th) is no great shakes, and the Magic's defense (2nd) is top-notch. Additionally, the Rockets were able to clamp down on the Magic in the second half of their only prior meeting this season, holding them to 42 points on 13-of-41 shooting after intermission. Orlando needs to find ways to score in the half-court, with Howard possibly neutralized by foul trouble and/or Yao. In Ron Artest and Shane Battier, Houston employs two of the league's best perimeter defenders. They figure to take turns defending Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, which leaves me wondering whom Scola will cover. Looking at the team's personnel (Hello, Chuck Hayes), it's easy to understand how it fields the Western Conference's best overall defense, and the league's 4th-best overall.

So tune in tonight for a possible playoff preview, at least in terms of style and atmosphere. Also see what sort of reception Rafer Alston (acquired from Houston at the trading deadline) and Lewis (a graduate of nearby Alief Elsik High School) receive in their homecomings. Go Magic.

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