|2008/2009 NBA Regular Season|
|November 12th, 2008|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Earl Watson|
|Mickael Pietrus||SG||Jeff Green|
|Hedo Turkoglu||SF||Desmond Mason|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Nick Collison|
|Dwight Howard||C||Johan Petro|
UPDATE 2: Brian Schmitz confirms that Durant is out tonight. Bullet dodged.
UPDATE: Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK.com reports that Kevin Durant is a game-time decision due to a sore left ankle.
The Orlando Magic take the floor of the Ford Center tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that figures to finish at or near the bottom of the Western Conference, if not the entire league, this season. Despite the vast talent gap between these two teams, there's plenty to watch for tonight, at least from a Magic fan's perspective.
First, it's ball movement. Kyle Hightower of the Orlando Sentinel reports the Magic spent almost all of yesterday's practice working on that skill. How they respond will give a good indicator of their attitude and approach.
Second, it's Rashard Lewis, and not for the reason you might expect. I'm sure there'll be a few stories today about Lewis' playing against his former team for the first time since it relocated, but that's not what I'm interested in. Rather, it's how he plays after shooting 5-of-22 in his last two games. John Denton says Lewis, who lead the Magic in preseason scoring and vowed to be more aggressive this season (last bullet), is unhappy with his role in the offense. Denton proposes a solution:
Because of his laid-back nature and willingness to fit in (almost to a fault sometimes), I think Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy should start games by calling post-up plays for Lewis. It could help jump-start him offensively and make sure he's focused on getting to the rim rather than simply launching jump shots.
Lewis did have back-to-back post moves in the third quarter Monday to put Orlando up 72-68. Then, they went away from him and didn't score another field goal for an 11-minute stretch.
Whatever Lewis does tonight, he'd be hard-pressed to perform as poorly as he did in his last game against the Thunder...er, SuperSonics: 9 points on 3-of-19 shooting in 40 minutes. Gulp.
But his services may not be needed. Make the jump to learn why.
The third thing to watch out for is another instance of Dwight "tornado full of bazookas stuffed with pop rocks and diet coke" Howard doing what he does best. The Thunder are long on depth but short on talent at the power positions, and are possibly the team most poorly equipped to defend Dwight Howard. In that same game against the Thunder in which Lewis struggled, Howard shone with a career-high 39 points on 12-of-17 shooting, 16 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. Robert Swift prays for rain... or to come down with "flu-like symptoms."
Finally, I want to know how the Magic plan to defend Kevin Durant, last year's Rookie of the Year. The best idea seems to be to make him settle for outside shots, since he shot 39.7% eFG on them last year, but he's upped that mark to 42.2% this year. That improvement, coupled with the fact that he's taking fewer three-pointers, doesn't leave me with much hope for tonight. I imagine Lewis, who most closely matches Durant in frame, will get the assignment. Good luck with that.
The Magic might be able to let Durant go off. They have no other reliable scorers. Of course, speedy rookie point guard Russell Westbrook is the sort of player who would light-up the Magic in the past, but he's shooting poorly (32.4% from the field) to start the season. However, he seems to be the most likely Thunder player, other than Durant, to have a monster game. I'm afraid that speaks more to the Thunder's talent than to the Magic's defense, however.
Tip's at 8 on Sun Sports. Go Magic.