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Tonight's Orlando Magic Game: at New Orleans Hornets

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The Orlando Magic head to the Big Easy to take on the New Orleans Hornets tonight. The Hornets are still without All-Universe point guard Chris Paul and have lost 6 of their last 10 games despite strong offensive showings from Darren Collison (Paul's replacement, David West, Peja Stojakovic, and Marcus Thornton. Each is shooting over 44.3% from the field during that stretch, while Stojakovic, Thornton, and Morris Peterson are bombing away from the outside, each on at least 41.9% of their triple tries. Thornton scored 37 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers in an eventual 105-95 loss, which was so close from Cleveland's perspective that Cavs beat writer Brian Windhost said it "feels almost like a loss." After Thornton's big night, ticktock6 struck the "Lil" from his nickname, so he'll henceforth be known as simply "Buckets."

2009/2010 NBA Season
Orlando Magic main logo
@
New Orleans Hornets main logo
39-19 30-28
February 24th, 2010
New Orleans Arena
9:30 PM
Fox Sports Florida / ESPN
Probable Starters
Jameer Nelson PG Darren Collison
Vince Carter SG Morris Peterson
Matt Barnes SF Peja Stojakovic
Rashard Lewis PF David West
Dwight Howard C Emeka Okafor
Previous Meetings
February 8th: Magic 123, Hornets 117
Game Officials
Ron Garretson
Curtis Blair
Jason Phillips

Moreover, New Orleans built a 17-point lead on the Magic in Orlando earlier this month, and Orlando only pulled out the win due to Vince Carter's exceptional, 48-point outing. The point is that the Hornets are dangerous.

One key for Orlando, it seems to me, is to saddle Hornets center Emeka Okafor with fouls early. A sound defender, he gives Dwight Howard some problems, and the Hornets lack effective low-post presences on defense apart from him. Orlando's offense, really, isn't the concern; it's containing Collison and Thornton. Collison finished ith 27 points and 9 assists in the first meeting, devastating the Magic on the pick-and-roll. The key to slowing him in the second half--11 points on 11 shots, 1 assist, 2 turnovers--was essentially ceding him the lane and taking away his passing options. Thornton, incredibly enough, did not play in the first meeting as Hornets coach Jeff Bower elected to play Peterson and James Posey a combined 48 minutes in an ultimately futile effort to slow Carter. I expect Thornton to log heavy minutes tonight in order to make Carter work defensively, which could in turn detract from his offense.

Another factor in New Orleans' strong early showing earlier this month was its speed, as it raced out to easy baskets even when taking the ball out of their own net. Despite employing the slow Stojakovic and Peterson, the Hornets love to push the pace with Collison running the show; they are, historically, a slow, half-court team when Paul is healthy. That fast style caught the Magic off guard the first time around. They can't let it do the same thing again tonight.

Annoyingly, the game doesn't tip until 9:30. Comment away in this space.