UPDATE: No official word yet as to Jameer Nelson's availability tonight. Don't forget to watch Magic Overtime with Dante and Galante at 12:30; details here.
|2008/2009 NBA Regular Season|
|December 5th, 2008|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Jameer Nelson|
|Damien Wilkins||SG||J.J. Redick|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Hedo Turkoglu|
|Jeff Green||PF||Rashard Lewis|
|Chris Wilcox||C||Dwight Howard|
|November 12th: Magic 109, Thunder 92|
After starting a fairly unproductive backcourt duo of Anthony Johnson and J.J. Redick for the last week, the Orlando Magic will likely welcome regular starter Jameer Nelson and top reserve Keith Bogans to their lineup tonight. Nelson was close to returning Wednesday against Minnesota, while Bogans dressed for the game but did not play.
Nelson's return isn't a moment too soon, either. Oklahoma City has recently shifted speedy rookie point guard Russell Westbrook into its starting lineup. The thought of Johnson having to chase Westbrook around for 35 minutes makes me cringe; Nelson, although not a great defender, at least has the quickness to stick to Westbrook.
But Westbrook is hardly the Magic's biggest problem. Yes, Orlando walloped Oklahoma City last month, but that was due almost entirely to Dwight Howard's incredible 30-point, 19-rebound, 10-block performance. Its usually solid forward duo of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis combined for 28 points on 28 shots. Meanwhile, the Thunder were without Kevin Durant, the reigning Rookie of the Year, upon whom they rely for 22.3 points each night. Another lackluster effort from Hedardo Turkolewis, coupled with a strong night from Durant, would put Orlando in danger of becoming the Thunder's third victim this season.
... or not. As good as Durant and frontcourt-mate Jeff Green are, Oklahoma City fields a horrid basketball team, as its league-worst 2-17 record shows. It's so bad that ESPN.com created this page to track how the Thunder compare to the worst teams in NBA history. The Thunder run at the league's 7th-fastest pace, yet are dead-last in eFG% and 20th in turnover rate, which means spectators are treated to a miserably high amount of wasted possessions.
Maybe the Thunder could win games with bad offense if they played some defense to compensate. Well, they don't. And they have nobody who can defend Howard. I'm not expecting him to dominate to the extent to which he did last month--that's a once-or-twice-a-season thing--but I do expect him to get plenty of touches against the Thunder's defensively inept front-line. He should be able to get the undersized Chris Wilcox/Nick Collison tandem in foul trouble fairly easily, and behind those two sit Joe Smith (old, decent, this year's answer to P.J. Brown) and Robert Swift (young, untested, ornamented). Easy pickings, as it were.
If there's any storyline to watch tonight, it's the shooting guard rotation. Courtney Lee has roundly outplayed Redick in Mickael Pietrus' absence, and Bogans' presence means one of those two players is going to get his minutes squeezed as a result. John Denton thinks it might be Redick.
Tip's at 7 on Sun Sports. Let's hope the Magic are able to stop Thunder coach Scott Brooks from setting another franchise record.