The Orlando Magic face the re-tooled Houston Rockets tonight in their second straight game against a team that shuffled major rotation players at last week's trading deadline. The Rockets parlayed Tracy McGrady's expiring contract, Carl Landry, and the goodwill established in their willingness to take on an additional year of Jared Jeffries at nearly $7 million into Kevin Martin, 2009 lottery pick Jordan Hill, and two future first-round picks from New York in a three-way deal that made GM Daryl Morey come out looking like, as Kelly Dwyer put it, a "magnificent bastard." Houston's lost 2 straight since making the deal, but has worked hard to integrate the absurdly efficient Martin into the lineup. As such, he'll make his first start as a Rocket tonight, and all indications are that he and point guard Aaron Brooks--about whom Orlando is very concerned--will make a solid backcourt tandem for years to come.
|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|February 24th, 2010|
|Fox Sports Florida|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Aaron Brooks|
|Vince Carter||SG||Kevin Martin|
|Matt Barnes||SF||Shane Battier|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Luis Scola|
|Dwight Howard||C||Chuck Hayes|
|December 23rd: Magic 102, Rockets 87|
Although Brooks and Martin will probably give the Magic some fits, it's just as likely that Orlando will present even more problems to Houston. Despite employing Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes, two of the league's most respected defenders at their respective positions, Houston is a middle-of-the-pack defensive team, ranking 15th in efficiency. It's telling that opposing teams shoot better than league average at the rim against the Rockets, and that only 46.3% of those shots are assisted, which ties for the second-lowest figure in the NBA. It would appear that Houston is vulnerable to dribble penetration and that, with the 6'06" Hayes filling in for the 7'06" Yao Ming in the post, finishing at the rim is a relative breeze. Additionally, Battier, renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of opponents' playbooks, called the Magic's 4/5 pick-and-roll "the hardest play to stop in the NBA."
On the other side of the ball, the Rockets are 29th in conversion rate at the rim, which doesn't figure to improve with the craftily monstrous Landry now plying his trade in Sacramento. Luis Scola has become an offensive focal point since Landry's departure, with 28 shot attempts in the last two games. He's been effective in the post, sure, but only 11 of those attempts have come at the rim. He's more of a pick-and-pop threat, and figures to return to that role tonight with Martin assuming more offensive responsibility.
Orlando simply needs to execute its offense, as it did two days before Christmas against the Rockets, in which 5 players scored between 13 and 18 points, to give itself a chance to win. And although Houston's season-long offensive numbers aren't too impressive, Martin and Brooks are both talented enough to take over a game by themselves. Jameer Nelson, Jason Williams, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, and Matt Barnes have some tough work facing them tonight.