|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|November 28th, 2009|
|Jason Williams||PG||Brandon Jennings|
|Vince Carter||SG||Michael Redd|
|Mickael Pietrus||SF||Carlos Delfino|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Ersan Ilyasova|
|Dwight Howard||C||Dan Gadzuric|
The Orlando Magic will try to win their 7th game in 8 tries when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center tonight. ESPN was nice enough to treat a national TV audience to the Bucks' game against the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, which confirmed what several of us already suspected: Thunder forward Kevin Durant is very, very, very special. It also afforded everyone a look at the Bucks, who are somehow above .500 after Thanksgiving despite having to run side screen-and-rolls with Carlos Delfino and Dan Gadzuric.
Well, I say "somehow" like it's a mystery, but it isn't: the Bucks, coached by former Magic point guard and notorious hardass Scott Skiles, defend exceptionally well, ranking 8th in defensive efficiency coming into tonight's game. But that ranking has fallen with center Andrew Bogut sidelined with a bruised leg, and as such the Bucks are quite vulnerable in the middle.
I believe you see where this is heading: the Magic have Dwight Howard, fresh off a 22-point performance against Atlanta on Thanksgiving, and the Bucks employ Gadzuric and Kurt Thomas' Reanimated Corpse manning the pivot. If Howard can't light up those two--although Thomas is still a heady defender who is always ready to take a charge--then there might be something wrong with him.
But as the Thunder demonstrated last night, one need not have a dominant, back-to-the-basket big man in order to exploit the Bucks' deficiency inside. Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook drove the ball to the basket relentlessly. OKC didn't settle for too many jumpers. This is a night for Vince Carter to put his head down, drive, draw fouls, and sink free throws. Same for Rashard Lewis, Jason Williams, and J.J. Redick. I'd include Mickael Pietrus in that group, but I'm not sure I'd want him dribbling more than he absolutely has to.
Offense shouldn't be much of a problem for the Magic, given the weapons at their disposal. And without Bogut in the middle on offense, the Bucks become perimeter-oriented, relying on jumper after jumper after jumper. Sharpshooter Michael Redd hasn't been himself lately, coming off an injury, so he doesn't worry me too much. Nope, the focal point for Orlando's defense will be rookie point guard Brandon Jennings, who scored 55 points in a game a few weeks ago, in case you hadn't heard. The Thunder bottled him up last night by sending an extra defender at him, and thus forcing the ball out of his hands. Letting a guy with Jennings' court vision find the open man can sometimes be risky, but when that open man is Gadzuric or Charlie Bell, you can exhale a bit, you know? Williams' lateral mobility is just about shot, but he should be alright against Jennings as long as coach Stan Van Gundy occasionally sends double-team help.
Tip's at 9. This is the Magic's 3rd game in 4 nights, and the first part of a yet another back-to-back set. Put 'em away early, get some rest, and prepare for the quicker-than-hell New York Knicks tomorrow. Sound good?