It’s that time again. It’s a new year, and that means an opportunity to check-in with some SB Nation bloggers from around the league.
Having tons of familiarity with the team that we follow, but not being as knowledgeable about what’s going on around the league, is something we’re all a little guilty of. I’m going to try and make an effort again this year to reach out and network with some other SB Nation bloggers around the NBA to preview significant games on Orlando’s schedule. This time around, Ryne Buchanan of Blazer’s Edge (www.blazersedge.com) was kind enough to answer some questions I prepared for him to help preview Thursday’s match-up between the Magic and the Portland Trail Blazers.
1) For the Magic fans who aren’t as familiar with the Blazers (especially those of us on the East Coast who don’t see them play very often), what are the team’s expectations heading into this season? What are some realistic goals the team has a chance to achieve?
Ryne Buchanan (@ryne_buchanan):
I think for the fans that really follow the team closely, the goal is definitely to not just MAKE the playoffs, but to do some damage. Last year’s humiliating sweep was a tough pill to swallow, and fans want to see a competitive series at the very least. A series victory would go a long way for the fan base.
2) Maurice Harkless started his career in Orlando, playing over 200 games for the Magic over his first three seasons. How is Harkless a different player now, compared to the player that arrived in Portland (from Orlando) in 2015?
Moe is a bit of an enigma. Fans were pleasantly surprised with what he brought to the table that first season, as expectations weren’t exactly high (think Nik Stauskas). That second season he became a starter and excelled in the “3 and D” role teams so desperately covet. However, last season he was plagued by both injuries and inconsistency. He has performed admirably off the bench to start this season while recovering from off-season surgery, and I’m curious to see if he will remain in that role or eventually get back into the starting lineup. When healthy and engaged, he plays a significant role on this team.
3) The Portland organization and center Jusuf Nurkic agreed to a new four-year, $48 million-dollar contract this past July. Were fans of the Blazers pleased with the deal, and how does re-signing Nurkic affect the team’s plans regarding last year’s lottery pick, Zach Collins?
I think fans were satisfied with the signing given the lack of cap space needed to bring in outside help. The deal didn’t break the bank and Nurk has shown that when motivated, he can be a force inside. I don’t think it affects Collins as much as the departure of Ed Davis did. I think the plan was to bring Collins off the bench this season all along, and he is now the first option off the pine, after playing behind Davis last season. As far as long-term, it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle it, and if they end up both starting together.
4) The Blazers selected Anfernee Simons, an Orlando native who attended Edgewater High School, with the 24th pick in last June’s NBA Draft. Can you briefly share with us your first impressions of Simons (in Vegas Summer League/preseason play)?
Simons showed an incredible knack for getting his own shot in both Summer League and the preseason. Defensively he leaves a lot to be desired, but on the offensive end he more than holds his own. Don’t expect to see much of him this season on the court, but I think he’s really going to impress people when his opportunity comes. Don’t let the fresh face fool you, the kid can play and makes his presence known.
5) Is there a positional/situational match-up in Thursday’s Magic/Blazers game you are especially looking forward to? Will the Blazers cover, or are you taking the Magic at home (and the points)?
I’m really looking forward to the Vucevic/Nurkic matchup. Nurk was solid offensively and on the glass in Monday’s loss to the Wizards (22 points and 18 rebounds), but his inability to cover Markieff Morris on the pick-and-pop down the stretch really cost the team. It’s worth pointing out that he rarely is on the court down the stretch, so that’s something to keep an eye on. Coming off of their first loss, I think the Blazers are going to bring an inspired effort to the Magic Kingdom.
I want to thank Ryne again for taking the time to help us out at Orlando Pinstriped Post. You can find Ryne’s (and the rest of our friends at Blazer’s Edge) work at www.blazersedge.com.
And at Orlando Pinstriped Post, you can check back here tomorrow (Thursday) for an Orlando/Portland game preview, as well as for the community GameThread (7:00).