The Orlando Magic will look to improve their winning streak to 5 games, and to avenge an embarrassing January defeat, tonight when they host the Washington Wizards, who reside in the Southeast Division cellar and have the Eastern Conference's second-worst record. Injuries and scandal have derailed Washington's season and have forced coach Flip Saunders, in his first year leading the Wizards, to use 18 different starting lineups, and none more than 7 times. Mainstays Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and Antawn Jamison appear in trade rumors each day, and Mike Prada of Bullets Forever believes Jamison "absolutely needs" to go. It's been a rough season for the franchise, but that didn't stop the Wizards from ambushing the Magic last month--in their first home game since guard Gilbert Arenas pled guilty to firearms charges--going on a late 33-16 run to win and to prolong Orlando's tailspin. They also added literal injury to insult, as a hard Andray Blatche screen separated Vince Carter's shoulder after he had gotten off to an encouraging start on the offensive end, setting his disappointing season back even further.
|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|February 5th, 2010|
|Randy Foye||PG||Jameer Nelson|
|Mike Miller||SG||Vince Carter|
|Caron Butler||SF||Matt Barnes|
|Antawn Jamison||PF||Rashard Lewis|
|Brendan Haywood||C||Dwight Howard|
|January 8th: Wizards 104, Magic 97|
As you might expect given their record, the Wizards don't do anything especially well. Haywood's one of the better low-post defenders in the league, and Dwight Howard even ranked him the league's 3rd-best defender overall, but no other Wizard stands out defensively. Orlando should have no problem getting the looks it wants from the outside, and although Haywood's a plus-defender, Howard's really taken it to other great interior defenders of late.
Jamison always gives the Magic trouble, and I wouldn't put it past a guy like Mike Miller or Randy Foye to have the sort of game where he can't miss anything. The Magic must stay locked-in defensively; in the 8 games since returning from their West Coast road trip, Orlando's held its opponents to 97.8 points per 100 possessions, and allowed an opponent to crack the league-wide average of 106.9 just twice.
What really helped the Wizards in their earlier win over Orlando was their home crowd and sense of spirit. It's hokey, I know, and I hate writing things like that. But it was very apparent that the fans got behind the Wizards, who fed on that energy as they made their winning run. Tonight, they won't have that benefit. They played, in TruthAboutIt's words, "like they don't give a f*ck" in their most recent outing, a loss to the New York Knicks in which they surrendered a 23-6 run to lose control of the game.
What I'm getting at is that there aren't a lot of factors at play tonight that favor Washington, but I've learned never to count out a team with Jamison on it. His career average of 23.9 points against Orlando is his highest against any of the league's 30 teams.