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Tonight's Orlando Magic Game: at Los Angeles Lakers

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Tonight's NBA Finals rematch between the Orlando Magic and the L.A. Lakers hasn't even happened yet, but I'm already sick of talking about it. Really. Eddy and I discussed it in our podcast yesterday, and I discussed it with Dennis Scott last Friday as well. Eddy's got a roundup of what everyone's said today in what's become a regular feature for nationally televised Magic games. Also don't miss Dexter Fishmore's entertaining and informative take on Orlando at Silver Screen and Roll, SB Nation's Lakers blog. His headline will earn at least a chortle.

The usual GameThread goodies follow the jump, which we're trying to emphasize here in order to cut down on clutter.

2009/2010 NBA Season
Orlando Magic main logo
@
Los Angeles Lakers main logo
26-14 31-9
January 18th, 2010
Staples Center
10:30 PM
TNT
Probable Starters
Jameer Nelson PG Derek Fisher
Vince Carter SG Kobe Bryant
Matt Barnes SF Ron Artest
Rashard Lewis PF Pau Gasol
Dwight Howard C Andrew Bynum
Game Officials
Joe Crawford
Matt Boland
Marc Davis

As the stats in Fishmore's post indicate, the Lakers are making their hay this year on defense, not on offense as last year. Orlando's offense has struggled mightily of late, and its defense has been no great shakes on the road this year. Asking for a win might be a bit too much, given how poorly the Magic have played of late. However, they have to at least demonstrate some progress. Move the ball better, convert the open three-point looks that have fallen off, defend the three-pointer more aggressively, et cetera.

Kobe Bryant's myriad finger issues have made his shot less reliable lately, converting on 40.8% of his field goals and 72.5% of his free throws in 2010. If Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes force him to take contested 18-footers, they've done their job. The bigger issue is stopping Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom on the offensive glass. Orlando's an elite defensive rebounding team, but has had some embarrassing, untimely gaffes at that end this season. Gasol grabs 10.9% of available offensive rebounds, with Bynum at 9.6% and Odom at 7.4%. The task falls to Dwight Howard and Barnes to keep Orlando from allowing the Lakers many second opportunities to score.

The matchup that skews most heavily in Orlando's favor is, I believe, Jameer Nelson against Derek Fisher. Yes, Fisher has good size for a point guard--a requisite for Phil Jackson's teams--and has earned a reputation as an above-average defender. And Fisher sank arguably the biggest shot of last year's Finals with Nelson... well, I wouldn't say "in his face," but, um, "defending." However, Fisher's lost his quickness. Check out this list of guards who have exceeded 20 points against the Lakers this year. Look at the point guards on that list, and how many of them match Nelson's size (Will Bynum), play style (Beno Udrih, Mo Williams), or both (Aaron Brooks, Darren Collison). Nelson came up big in the two regular-season games against L.A. last year (27.5 points, 5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 70% True Shooting, and a go-ahead three-pointer) and could have made a difference in the Finals if healthy. He has to do his thing tonight, especially with Gasol and Odom shutting Howard down in the post, for Orlando to have a chance to win.

Finally, there's no time like the present for Vince Carter to break out of his shooting slump. Does "slump" even do justice to what Carter's going through this season? Since December, Carter's shot 36.1% from the field and 23.3% from three-point range, which confirms what many Lakers fans long suspected: Bryant can out-shoot Carter even missing the use of some of his fingers.

Tune in at 10:30 on TNT to catch the game. I feel like we'll learn a lot about this Magic team tonight.