Game 22 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Orlando Magic

Blazers: 10-11

Magic: 15-6

Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:30 PM. TV: TNT. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Brandon Roy (#7, 6′6″, Washington), SF Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)

Projected Orlando Starting Lineup: PG Jameer Nelson (#14, 6’0″, St. Joseph’s), SG Vince Carter (#15, 6’6″, North Carolina), SF Quentin Richardson (#5, 6’6″, DePaul), PF Rashard Lewis (#9, 6’10”, Alief Elsik), C Dwight Howard (#12, 6’11”, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy)

Tuesday’s win over the Suns was the Blazers’ most satisfying in a while–with the exception of one down stretch in the third quarter, Portland showed up for all 48 minutes (an increasingly rare occurrence) and played a smart, team-oriented game highlighted by an astonishing 32-of-33 team performance from the foul line and some crucial defensive stops in the fourth quarter. It was a refreshing change of pace following the six-game losing streak and 15-points-closer-than-it-had-any-right-to-be win over the Clippers. Tonight, the Blazers face one of the top teams in the east, one that features the most dominant center the NBA has seen since Shaq in his prime and that is only one season removed from a trip to the Finals.

It goes without saying that Dwight Howard is the toughest test any team’s bigs will face all year, and all we can do is be thankful Joel Przybilla is back in the team’s rotation. Marcus Camby has been oddly underused the last few games, and he will need to stay out of foul trouble tonight, because Howard will feast on the Blazers if they don’t have big bodies to throw at him. The Blazers’ best strategy is to limit Howard’s rebounding as much as possible, because the rest of the team matches up fairly well against Portland.

Rose Garden crowds look for anything to amp up the intensity, and Andre Miller’s return from a one-game suspension for shoving Blake Griffin certainly qualifies. Look for Miller to have a big game tonight, especially in light of his uncharacteristic public comments in response to the suspension. Patty Mills will probably get the lion’s share of the backup point-guard minutes after his solid performance against the Suns. Jameer Nelson is no Steve Nash, but he’s a terrific passer and can be dangerous from deep if left open. Vince Carter still has the potential to go off on any given night, and will probably be the focal point for the Wesley Matthews/Nicolas Batum defensive tandem.

Given Orlando’s pedigree and the force of nature that is Dwight Howard, it would be silly and presumptuous to expect a win tonight, but out of the league’s title contenders, the Blazers certainly match up better against the Magic than they do the Lakers or Celtics. If they play the kind of team-focused game they played against Phoenix and make smart defensive plays, they could pull out what would be a huge third straight win at home.

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