The Orlando Magic head to New Jersey to take on the Nets tonight in a matchup of two teams with close ties, yet lie on opposite ends of the NBA success spectrum. New Jersey still has a chance at setting the NBA's all-time futility record of 9-73, and would need to win 4 of its next 22 games to avoid going down in history for the wrong reasons; attendance is so bad that the Nets have resorted to shameless, albeit innovative, promotions to draw fans in, like the one tonight which offers free income tax preparation. Orlando, in contrast, is playing its best ball of the season and has the inside track to the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The teams changed each other's fortunes on draft night when the Magic sent Rafer Alston, Tony Battie, and Courtney Lee up the coast for Ryan Anderson and Vince Carter. NetsDaily, the latest addition to the SB Nation network, elaborates:
The last time Vince Carter was at the IZOD, it was the Nets home opener, hopes were (moderately) high and Lawrence Frank was head coach. My how things have changed.
|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|March 5th, 2010|
|Fox Sports Florida|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Devin Harris|
|Vince Carter||SG||Chris Douglas-Roberts|
|Matt Barnes||SF||Trenton Hassell|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Yi Jianlian|
|Dwight Howard||C||Brook Lopez|
|October 30th: Magic 95, Nets 85|
|November 13th: Magic 88, Nets 72|
As the Nets are one of the worst teams in history, it doesn't do much good for me to tell you that they're terrible. But it does bear noting that the Nets took down the Celtics in Boston, and handily, just last Sunday. And that today is Friday, and bad things have happened to Orlando in its last several Friday games. And that Lee, who insists he'll play despite his coach's assertion that he's doubtful, has come on strong since the All-Star Break concluded (16.8 points per game on 58.1% True Shooting) and is highly motivated to give the Magic what-for.
So Lee could present a problem, if he plays. Backcourt-mate Devin Harris has also played better of late and is a strong candidate to draw fouls on his way to the basket. Magic center Dwight Howard has more-or-less locked down Brook Lopez, his New Jersey counterpart, in his career, but Lopez is still quite skilled and isn't someone defenses can afford to ignore.
But what I'm watching most tonight is the Magic's power forward rotation against the Nets', uh, decidedly less-than-stellar one. Brandon Bass has temporarily taken Anderson's backup role, but Anderson could get the nod tonight against Easy Yi Jianlian, a perimeter-oriented four-man. On the other hand, Yi's backup, Kris Humphries, is an offensively minded bulldog who can score and rebound in a hurry, although he's not exactly efficient. Bass is probably better suited to check Humphries than Anderson is. How will coach Stan Van Gundy juggle those minutes tonight?
Also, keep an eye on Carter. He was well on his way to a 40-point outburst against New Jersey earlier this season, with 16 points in 15 minutes before spraining his ankle by stepping on Harris' shoe.
Really, though, Brian Schmitz said it best about this game (brackets mine):
The Magic need to do what they did against the Warriors [on Wednesday] — put the Nets out of their misery early and don't allow anything to happen in a tight fourth quarter.
Run the pick-and-roll, play lock-down D, and end this one quickly. New Jersey has, by far, the worst offense in the league--the difference between the Nets' offense and 29th-ranked Minnesota's is greater than the distance between Minnesota's and 23rd-ranked Milwaukee--while Orlando has one of the best defenses. If the Magic play hard, execute, and take the Nets seriously, this one should be over by halftime. If not, there's a chance the Magic could join the Celtics, Knicks, Bobcats, Bulls, and Clippers as New Jersey's lone victims this season.