Game Details: Amway Center, Orlando, FL. 4:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’3″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, France), 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 Jason Richardson (#23, 6’6″, Michigan State), SF Hedo Turkoglu (#15, 6’10”, Turkey), PF Brandon Bass (#30, 6’8″, LSU), C Malik Allen (#35, 6’10”, Villanova)
Tonight marks the beginning of the Blazers’ last major road trip of the season, which will also take them to Miami, Charlotte, and Atlanta. Three of those four teams are playoff teams, and two are arguably contenders. Those two are first up. However, this is not the Orlando Magic team we’re used to watching on TV, as Dwight Howard will be suspended for this game due to his picking up 16 technical fouls on the season.
Howard’s absence isn’t the only thing that will be different from the last time the Blazers played the Magic, at which time Portland won convincingly despite an absolutely monster night from Dwight. About a week after that match, Orlando flipped Rashard Lewis for to Washington for Gilbert Arenas and Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, and Mickael Pietrus to Phoenix for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Earl Clark. The loss of Gortat in that trade will hurt Orlando most tonight, as their center depth without Howard looks a little like the Blazers’ did without Marcus Camby and Joel Pryzbilla earlier this year. The Magic’s defense without the best defensive player in the league in the lineup is shaky to say the least, but the Blazers’ own D can’t slack off tonight, because Orlando still has plenty of scoring options. Besides Richardson, Turkoglu, and Arenas, there’s sharpshooter J.J. Redick, point guard Jameer Nelson, and forward Brandon Bass, all of whom are capable of knocking down shots.
Without Howard to plan for, tonight’s game should be an opportunity for Nate McMillan to try out the smaller lineup for an extended period of time, so expect to see Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, and LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor together a lot with either Brandon Roy or Andre Miller. The ability to play around with different lineups and potentially rest the starting unit for stretches tonight is hugely important to the Blazers’ chances tomorrow against the Heat. The last two games have been wins, but flawed ones against vastly inferior teams. It’ll be hard to tell too much from how they play against Orlando tonight, because of Howard’s absence. Ideally, Portland would like a split on this road trip, and Orlando’s void in the middle makes this game the second-most winnable one (after Charlotte) on the swing.