|2008/2009 NBA Regular Season|
|February 11th, 2009|
|FSN Florida HD|
|Chauncey Billups||PG||Anthony Johnson|
|Dahntay Jones||SG||Mickael Pietrus|
|Carmelo Anthony||SF||Hedo Turkoglu|
|Kenyon Martin||PF||Rashard Lewis|
|January 17th: Magic 106, Nuggets 88|
Tony Battie turns 33 today and gets to celebrate by--one hopes--really taking it to his former team, which made him the 5th pick in the 1997 draft. Incidentally, the Nuggets sent him and the draft rights to current Magic point guard Tyronn Lue to the Los Angeles Lakers for Nick Van Exel one year later. Battie never suited up for the Lakers before they traded him to the Boston Celtics for Travis Knight. How's that for some trivia?
One hesitates to call a match-up of third-place teams in February a "must-win" for either side, but in this case, it's warranted. The Orlando Magic's victory over the Denver Nuggets on January 17th was the high point of their season, as they closed out a 4-0 West Coast road trip in which they defeated each of that conference's division leaders in emphatic fashion. It bumped their record to 33-8 and convinced not a few NBA observers that they were a legitimate championship contender.
Since then, the Magic have gone cold. They're 5-4 and, with Jameer Nelson likely out for the season with a shoulder injury, are no threat to catch the Cleveland Cavaliers or Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference. Tonight, they can right the ship heading into All-Star Weekend by beating these very same Nuggets.
Well, I should not say "very same." In the January 17th win, Denver was without Carmelo Anthony, its leading scorer. It's not the same Magic team, either, since Nelson was healthy and arguably the only reason the Magic won. Yes, Hedo Turkoglu got hot in the second half, but Nelson kept the Magic in the game during a close first half, scoring 21 of the team's 47 points.
Turkoglu will initiate much of Orlando's offense tonight, which will surely tax him defensively against Anthony, one of the league's craftiest scorers. The Magic may consider rotating different defenders on him to keep Turkoglu fresh. Alternatively, they could cross-match Turkoglu with Dahntay Jones and hope Mickael Pietrus has the goods to contain Anthony. Jones has a quickness advantage on Turkoglu, but is a defensive specialist and usually the offense's fifth option.
One player to really watch tonight is Nenê. A clever defender, he has the skills to strip Dwight Howard as Orlando's center operates in the post. Of course, he could just as easily get whistled for fouls, as he did in the first game. Nuggets coach George Karl complained that the officials called the game unfairly:
"There's two sets of rules," Karl said. "There's a set of rules for Howard and there's a set of rules for Nene. (Nene's) fourth foul was incredibly ... Come on. All you had to call was a three-second call and get out of the game because Howard was challenging the whistle to blow," Karl said.
Getting Nenê in foul trouble is key, as the only other center in Denver's rotation is Chris Andersen. Additionally, the Nuggets are one of the league's better three-point defense teams; if the Magic's shooters can't bomb the Nuggets into submission, they'll want to feed Dwight down low or drive to the rack themselves.
I expect a reasonably close game, one that could come down to the wire. The game in Denver was close until Turkoglu went off, and the addition of Anthony and subtraction of Nelson makes these teams fairly even in terms of talent. Tip's at 7 on FSN Florida. Go Magic.