The Orlando Magic host the struggling, shorthanded, and incredibly dangerous Denver Nuggets tonight at Amway Arena. Denver had lost 3 in a row, matching a season-high losing streak, prior to Friday's win in Toronto... which was only secured at the buzzer, when Carmelo Anthony's jumper from the foul line rattled in. Coach George Karl is on indefinite leave to undergo cancer treatment, and power forward Kenyon Martin, whose speed and quickness makes him key to Denver's defense, will miss the rest of the regular season with a left knee injury. Now, any time you're facing a team with Anthony and Chauncey Billups, you're in trouble. But as Magic coach Stan Van Gundy explained after Orlando's win over Minnesota on Friday, facing an elite team when it's in a funk "is the worst time." Dwight Howard agreed, saying, "they're fighting for something in the West [...] and they're looking forward to playing a good team and having a good test." So although Denver's win in Orlando last season was its first there since Scott Skiles, Terry Catledge, and Chris Corchiani donned Magic pinstripes--or, if you prefer, its first since Anthony was first-grader--the Nuggets are quite a fearsome team.
|2009/2010 NBA Season
|48-25 (18-19 road)
|51-22 (29-7 home)
|March 28th, 2010
|January 13th: Nuggets 115, Magic 97
Van Gundy said Orlando had no answer for Anthony's or Billups' post-ups in the first meeting between these teams, and that the Nuggets picked the Magic apart whenever they sent double-teams their way. Denver tends to do that, ranking 2nd in offensive efficiency, and not just because of its two All-Stars. Martin and Arron Afflalo are solid safety-valve types for the Nuggets' offense, J.R. Smith is one of the league's most explosive scorers off the bench, and Nenê does a bit of everything. "He's a great inside presence for their team," Howard said. "He can score, he can pass, play defense, so he brings a lot to the table for their team. When [Anthony, Billups, and Nenê] have it going, they're tough to beat." But he didn't seem too concerned about the Nuggets' blowout win over Orlando in January. "We got 'em on a back-to-back," he said with a sheepish smile. "We're not too good at those."
With Martin out, I expect the Magic's offense to attack Denver's shortened big-man rotation of Nenê, Johan Petro, Chris Andersen, and Malik Allen with pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pops, forcing them to move their feet and make quick decisions. Nenê and Allen are surprisingly nimble and capable, given their size, but Andersen and Petro can be beat. Howard and Rashard Lewis will really have to carry the load today. Vince Carter sprained his ankle against Minnesota, and although he'll play, it's hard or him to be effective with a sore ankle, as we saw throughout much of December and January. Jameer Nelson is due to break out of his shooting slump any day now, but tonight doesn't seem like a safe bet; Billups is a big, physical guard who will attack Nelson off the dribble and in the post at the other end of the floor, which will take most of Nelson's energy.
As for dealing with Anthony, well, I'm not sure anyone can. Matt Barnes' sore toe has limited his defense lately, and Anthony's so talented that he'll score 28 regardless. One of the things that makes him and Billups dangerous individually is that they both can work themselves to the foul line if their jumper is off the mark. Now that they're on the same team, they put even more pressure on opposing defenses and get even more players in foul trouble. Maybe you can bait Anthony into a rare time-traveling call. I dunno.
Tip's at 6.