On the second night of a back-to-back and short their best perimeter defender, the Orlando Magic will visit the Miami Heat in a potential first-round playoff preview. Miami leads the season series, 2-1, so Orlando has a score to settle; Dwight Howard said as much on his blog today. But Orlando faces a stiff challenge tonight, as Mickael Pietrus will sit out due to a sprained left ankle suffered in last night's blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs. Matt Barnes, himself recovering from a sprained toe, will play and draw the difficult, unenviable assignment of covering Dwyane Wade. Pietrus' absence also means that Vince Carter and J.J. Redick will also spend some time tonight stranded on Wade Island, because Barnes has to rest occasionally. Clearly, this is cause for concern.
|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|48-21 (20-14 away)
|35-33 (20-15 home)
|March 18th, 2010|
|American Airlines Arena|
|TNT / FSN Florida|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Carlos Arroyo|
|Vince Carter||SG||Dwyane Wade|
|Matt Barnes||SF||Quentin Richardson|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Michael Beasley|
|Dwight Howard||C||Jermaine O'Neal|
|November 25th: Heat 99, Magic 98|
|December 17th: Heat 104, Magic 86|
|February 28th: Magic 96, Heat 80||Advanced Stats|
|92.4 (18th)||Pace||90.3 (28th)|
|110.1 (8th)||ORtg||105.9 (20th)|
|102.6 (2nd)||DRtg||104.7 (9th)|
Heat center Jermaine O'Neal and Howard basically offset in the last meeting between these teams, with each getting under the other's skin and also battling foul trouble. Should that situation play out tonight, it'll be incumbent upon Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Carter to score, while Marcin Gortat will have to protect the rim--which he did beautifully in the first 3 quarters against San Antonio, before mailing in the fourth quarter and allowing Ian Mahinmi to score 12 points--and occasionally clean up an errant Magic shot. Orlando can win this way, and since Gortat is better than Howard anyway, they'll be fine. Right? Of course!
Miami's offense isn't much, even with Wade and the gifted Michael Beasley carrying much of the load. O'Neal hasn't posted up since George W. Bush's first term as president, preferring instead to launch jumpers from the baseline or top of the key. That's fine, I guess, and he's having a decent year, but if O'Neal is the best third option your team has, your team is bereft of offensive talent.
The wildcard, really, is Quentin Richardson. He's similar to Barnes in that he's a safety valve offensively, benefits from opponents paying too much attention to his superstar teammates, and rebounds well for his position. The difference is that, despite their darn near identical True Shooting marks, Richardson does his damage from the outside, attempting nearly two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc and connecting at an excellent 39.5% clip. Barnes, as we know, gets his at the rim, off cuts, and in transition. Richardson has drilled 3 or more three-pointers 16 times in 62 games, and has gone all the way up to 7 on 3 occasions. Last season, he dropped 33 points on the Magic in just 35 minutes, though he did most of his damage off the dribble in that game. I hadn't seen Richardson dribble since he and Darius Miles had their Alien Antlers thing going. Based on how well the Magic defended him that night, I'm guess it'd been a while for them too.
I'm not suggesting that the Magic need be more concerned with Richardson than Wade. He's Miami's 1, 1A, and 1B on offense. He's also a solid passer and will find the open man if pressured, especially on his way to the hoop. He'd tally more assists if he had centers with hands that can handle a dump-off pass; Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire are ill-suited to doing so.
Given the Heat's advantage of having a day of rest, and given the Magic's lack of a second wing defender to throw at Wade, this one could turn out ugly for Orlando, not unlike their first visit to Miami this year. Carter's shooting 31.3% from three-point range on the second night of bak-to-back sets this season, while taking a third of his shots from downtown. A lot of things are stacked in Miami's favor tonight. Except for talent, that is, and the odd bit about Orlando rarely losing (that I can remember) when wearing their home uniforms on the road. The Heat, Ira Winderman reports, van a poner sus uniformes negros que dice El Heat en la parte delantera para celebrar Noche Latina.
Official Monty McCutchen has a bit more flair than your typical zebra: he rolls into the game wearing a bowtie and light blue suit...cont'..
...then when asked about it, says 'The icing on the cake? It has been an excellent hair day too.' Wow.