UPDATE: Mickael Pietrus will be active for tonight's game, will play, but will not start, according to Kyle Hightower of the Orlando Sentinel. Pietrus told Hightower, "I'm feeling good," earlier today. Fantastic. Let's hope his minutes don't come at Courtney Lee's expense.
UPDATE 2: As one guard re-joins Orlando's lineup, another will exit Los Angeles'. According to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com), Jordan Farmar, the Lakers' backup to Derek Fisher, is out with a knee injury. Farmar has played 41% of the Lakers' PG minutes this year, meaning Fisher will have to pick up some slack. Fortunately for L.A., the Triangle Offense doesn't rely on any one player to distribute the ball. What's more, it has no shortage of non-PG players with good handles: Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom come immediately to mind, and Luke Walton is a capable passer as well.
|2008/2009 NBA Regular Season|
|December 20th, 2008|
|Derek Fisher||PG||Jameer Nelson|
|Kobe Bryant||SG||Keith Bogans|
|Luke Walton||SF||Hedo Turkoglu|
|Pau Gasol||PF||Rashard Lewis|
|Andrew Bynum||C||Dwight Howard|
Tonight, and for the second straight game, the well-rested Orlando Magic will host a legitimate title contender on the second night of a back-to-back set. The Los Angeles Lakers suffered an 89-87 defeat in Miami last night. The 87-point total was a season low for the Lakers, who also turned the ball over 21 times in a 90-possession game; nearly one in every four Laker possessions ended in a turnover. Kudos to Miami.
The last time the Lakers came to town, their new pairing of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol proved too much for the Magic to handle. The twosome scored 66 of L.A.'s 117 points. The Magic's attack was more balanced, as 7 players scored between 11 and 19 points, but the Lakers' blistering shooting and advantage at the foul line carried them to victory.
Of course, the Magic are better now than they were last year. Jameer Nelson is playing brilliantly, Dwight Howard is dominant as usual, and the bench is rounding into shape. I expect this contest to be much closer. Although the Lakers won the previous meeting by a scant 4 points, they enjoyed a comfortable lead during the second and third quarters; in other words, the game was not as close as it may appear based on the final score.
Most Magic fans will direct their attention to Lakers forward Trevor Ariza, whom the Magic sent West last November for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans. Ariza did not play in either of the Lakers' meetings with the Magic last season, so Magic fans will have the first chance to see him play against their team since the trae. Although Evans proved to be a valuable starter last year, and although Cook has made his share of timely three-pointers for the Magic, Ariza is making a much bigger difference for the Lakers than either of those players have made, or ever will make, for the Magic. His activity and energy helped the Lakers put away a stubborn Knicks team on Monday, as Howard Beck of the New York Times observes:
The Knicks took their last lead, 112-111, on a [Nate] Robinson 3-pointer with 1 minute 16 seconds to play. Trevor Ariza gave the Lakers the lead back for good on an alley-oop layup from Lamar Odom. After Robinson missed a point-blank runner, Ariza grabbed the rebound, leading to a pair of free throws by Derek Fisher and a 115-112 lead.
Additionally, in last night's game, Ariza grabbed a key rebound after Miami forward Udonis Haslem missed the second of two free throws. The Lakers called time out. On the ensuing possession, Kobe Bryant made a jumper to bring them to within 2 points with 41 seconds to play.
I think everyone in the Magic kingdom misses Trevor, even the people who ultimately approve of the trade that sent him away. I think we'd all feel a heckuva lot worse about it if Courtney Lee weren't developing so nicely, though. Lee's smaller and slightly less athletic than Ariza, and thus doesn't get as many rebounds. But his stellar defense and willingness to attack the rim remind me of Trevor. As a bonus, he has a fairly reliable jump shot, something Ariza did not have during his time in Orlando blue-and-white. Yay.
Lee may turn out to be Orlando's X-factor tonight. Even if starting two-guard and defensive ace Mickael Pietrus returns from his thumb injury, Lee will draw the assignment of covering Bryant down the stretch. But that's not why I'm making this claim. Rather, it's his ability to force turnovers and score in transition. The Heat aren't a fast-paced team--23rd heading into last night's game--but they scored 17 points off the Lakers' 21 turnovers. If the Magic can capitalize on the Lakers' miscues, they could be headed for their fourth straight win. I single Lee out because he might be the only Magic player who both forces turnovers and scores easily off them.
Kurt of Forum Blue & Gold thinks the Lakers' biggest advantage over the Magic is their ability to move the ball:
What kind of team gives the Magic fits? Ones that move the ball. As you would expect with their record, they play well against everyone but have won only 33% of their games against the top 10 teams in assists in the league. The Lakers are capable of that, they are a fantastic passing team when they want to be.
He adds that Pau Gasol is in for a big night, because the Magic have no one who can defend him.
As usual for a home game, the tip's at 7. You can watch the game on Sun Sports.