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Tonight's Game: Orlando Magic at Utah Jazz

2009/2010 NBA Season
Orlando Magic main logo
Utah Jazz main logo
17-4 12-9
December 10th, 2009
EnergySolutions Arena
10:30 PM
TNT / FSN Florida
Probable Starters
Jason Williams PG Deron Williams
Vince Carter SG Ronnie Brewer
Mickael Pietrus SF Wesley Matthews
Rashard Lewis PF Carlos Boozer
Dwight Howard C Mehmet Okur
Game Officials
Bill Spooner
Mark Ayotte
Jason Phillips

The Orlando Magic wind down their road trip with their penultimate game out west, a nationally televised meeting against the Utah Jazz. Injuries to key wing players Andrei Kirilenko, Kyle Korver, as well as backup point guard Ronnie Price, have left the Jazz shorthanded; they're starting undrafted rookie Wesley Matthews at small forward, for instance. Yet they've had a decent season so far, with one of the league's most dynamic offenses. Strangely, the Jazz are effective without using the three-point shot too often; they're 28th in three-pointers attempted per game, and shoot them at a respectable 34.1% clip. They're just much more effective inside, with power forward Carlos Boozer finishing down low and their guards slashing to the rim. Magic center Dwight Howard has to be careful not to foul when his perimeter defenders give up dribble-penetration. I have a sneaking suspicion that if he's not attentive, he'll pick up 2 fouls inside of 3 minutes, in which case the disgruntled backup Marcin Gortat will get a chance to prove he deserves more playing time.

If Howard stays in the game long enough, he could spend much of the night on the offensive end shooting free throws. The Jazz, under coach Jerry Sloan's urging, foul the hell out of people; they rank 25th in the NBA in opponent free throw ratio. If Howard gets inside position on Boozer, you can bet that Mehmet Okur--or the help-side defender--will take the foul rather than let Howard dunk. I'd strongly urge the Magic to go to Howard on every possession, daring the Jazz to foul him. If that strategy works, Orlando will be in the bonus before too long, leading to parade to the foul line for its perimeter players. Utah is, quite simply, an unimpressive defensive team. Its biggest weakness is its tendency to foul; its biggest strength is its rebounding at that end on the floor, grabbing 76.4% of opponent misses, the 6th-best figure in the league. It's unclear if that'll mean anything to the Magic, who rarely crash the offensive boards in order to fortify their transition defense.

The Jazz will play with a large chip on their shoulder. They battled the reigning champion L.A. Lakers to a virtual standstill through three quarters last night before tanking hard in the fourth. As in, they scored 6 points on 24 possessions. They missed 16 of their 18 shots and committed 6 turnovers. Either that embarrassing loss will dishearten them and they'll play flat tonight, or they'll use it as motivation to stick it to another contending team at home.

Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune says Orlando matches up favorably with Utah:

We all know the difficulty the Jazz have against three-point shooting teams that can space the floor [Ed. note: Utah went 9-17 against the top effective field-goal percentage shooting teams last year.]. We also know the difficulty the Jazz have against prolific scorers, which is what the Magic added this summer in Vince Carter, who's averaging 19.3 points.

And we haven't even gotten to Dwight Howard, who's averaging 18.4 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.05 blocks last season. If I remember last season's game in Orlando correctly, Howard had a double-double before the first quarter even was over. [Ed. note: he's right.]

Siler believes that Okur will get the assignment on Howard, leaving Boozer to chase Rashard Lewis around the perimeter. Lewis should have no trouble blowing by Boozer, and could create even more separation with a head fake to get Boozer off-balance. It's easy to see why Siler pegged the Magic as a tough matchup for the Jazz.

The game tips at 10:30. Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins will have the call for TNT.