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Tonight's Game: Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs

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2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Orlando Magic 20th anniversary logo
@
San Antonio Spurs alternate logo
29-8 24-11
January 11th, 2009
AT&T Center
8:30 PM
FSN Florida HD / NBA TV
Probable starters:
Jameer Nelson PG Tony Parker
Courtney Lee SG Roger Mason Jr.
Hedo Turkoglu SF Michael Finley
Rashard Lewis PF Matt Bonner
Dwight Howard C Tim Duncan
Previous Meetings:
December 18th: Magic 90, Spurs 78

Tonight's matchup between the Orlando Magic and the San Antonio Spurs features a few storylines, the most obvious of which is the individual pairing of Orlando's Dwight Howard and San Antonio's Tim Duncan. Both players dominate the paint on both ends of the floor, and both players draw opposing defenders away from their three-point marksmen. As it happens, the Spurs and the Magic are among the league's most prolific three-point shooting teams.

A more interesting story, though, might be the battle of wits between Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Although they prefer their teams to play at wildly difference paces--Van Gundy wants the Magic to push the tempo when possible, while Popovich would rather the Spurs play a slow-it-down game--their philosophy is essentially the same: win games with defense. The way to do that, these coaches believe, is not by gambling for steals, but rather by forcing opponents to settle for low-percentage shots, then grabbing the defensive board. According to 82games.com, 68% of Magic opponents' field goal attempts this season have been jumpers, almost identical to the 69% figure the Spurs post. However, the Magic (20th) and the Spurs (30th) rank in the bottom-third of the NBA in turnovers forced per 100 possessions. In short, both the Spurs and the Magic get their stops by playing under control, a more cerebral style than most teams play.

As much as I'd love for the Magic to roll to victory in this one, it's going to be tough. They haven't had much success in San Antonio lately--six defeats in their last seven visits--and Popovich is arguably the league's best tactical coach. He'll have his team well prepared after their disappointing performance in Orlando earlier this year. On the other hand, the Spurs don't have a heckuva lot of firepower--their three-point threats like Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, and Michael Finley are fairly efficient shooters, but not volume shooters--and the Magic may be able to secure a win if they jump out to an early lead. Then again, Manu Ginobili is always lurking on the Spurs' bench, and the dude knows how to do, um, pretty much everything offensively.

The tip's at 8:30 on FSN Florida HD or on NBA TV. Let's hope the Magic come out looking sharper than they did the last time they played on a Sunday. Go Magic.