|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|January 1st, 2010|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Jonny Flynn|
|Vince Carter||SG||Corey Brewer|
|Matt Barnes||SF||Damien Wilkins|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Kevin Love|
|Dwight Howard||C||Al Jefferson|
The Orlando Magic take to the road to play a prolonged stretch of games away from Amway Arena for the first time in three weeks, and they'll start tonight in Minneapolis when they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves. For a while, Minny was arguably the league's worst team--even worse than the then-winless New Jersey Nets--by virtue of its putrid point differential. Then, budding All-Star power forward Kevin Love returned to the lineup and the Wolves were comfortably out of the cellar again. They're only 5-11 with him, of course, but they were 2-14 without him, so it's a step in the right direction. They also managed to dump Jason Hart's expiring contract on the Phoenix Suns in exchange for swingman prospect Alando Tucker and a second-round draft pick, which looks like a winner of a deal to me, as well as to the Canis Hoopus folks.
Love and Al Jefferson combine to give Minnesota an excellent top-two big-man rotation, while the point guard combination of Jonny Flynn and assist machine Ramon Sessions gives it enviable depth there, too. The biggest hole is on the wings, where the Wolves give heavy minutes to the likes of Corey Brewer and Damien Wilkins. Neither would crack the Magic's rotation, nor that of any other playoff team in the league. The Wolves' poor bench will put them at a disadvantage against the Magic. Don't you get the feeling that J.J. Redick, Mickael Pietrus, Ryan Anderson, and Marcin Gortat would all be the first players off the bench at their respective positions if they played for Minnesota?
Minnesota sports the league's second-worst offense because it doesn't shoot well, take care of the ball, or get to the foul line. We'll see if that trend holds up tonight against the Magic's ever-improving defense; Orlando's held each of its last 5 opponents to fewer than 100 points per 100 possessions.
Make no mistake, though: Minnesota isn't a team to be taken lightly. Love's added a three-point shot to his offensive arsenal and can cause headaches down low with his offensive rebounding. And in general, the Wolves have proven dangerous, beating the Utah Jazz twice and boasting a signature win over the Denver Nuggets in the Mile High City. If you're looking for more reasons for concern, consider that tonight's officiating crew also had the call in Wednesday's Atlanta Hawks / Cleveland Cavaliers game, in which the shot clock failed to reset after a Cavs miss, which forced the Hawks to take an awkward shot in less than 10 seconds once they secured a rebound. Kevin Arnovitz has more on that situation here. Also, lead offical Ken Mauer presided over the most poorly officiated Magic game I've ever seen, although it happened six years ago and he might have improved since then. For what it's worth, anyway. Subpar refereeing or not, Orlando is the more talented team tonight and should be able to leave the Target Center with a victory.