Blazers: 7-2 (2nd Northwest Division)
Magic: 6-3 (3rd Southeast Division)
Game Details: Rose Garden Arena, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: KGW Radio: KXTG (750 AM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)
Projected Orlando Starting Lineup: PG Jameer Nelson (#14, 6′, Saint Joseph’s), SG Jason Richardson (#23, 6’6”, Michigan State), SF Hedo Turkoglu (#15, 6’10”, Efes Pilsen, Turkey), PF Ryan Anderson (#33, 6’10”, California), C Dwight Howard (#12, 6’11”, South West Atlanta Christian Academy)
Another day, another game, and this time another test. The second night of back-to-backs have been something of a Portland specialty in the recent past, and tonight’s game will be a good primer for the two upcoming on this next extended road swing, so that makes this game a test. Orlando is a middle of the pack Playoff team with a decent record coming in, but has yet to record a signature victory against one of the NBA’s best, so it’s a test in that regard as well.
But here’s what really makes this game a test: the Magic have Dwight Howard, and he is a tough guy to game plan for. Go back to last season when Orlando played in Portland. The Blazers held Howard to a measly 39 points and 15 rebounds, and barely escaped with a 14-point win. How do you game plan for that? Did coach Nate McMillan tell his goes to let the big fella do whatever he wanted but to not let any other player hit a shot? That’s kind of what happened (Dwight’s teammates combined for 44 points on that night), but was it on purpose? Maybe. Maybe not.
Portland has to figure out a way to limit Dwight, if he goes for 40 and 20 tonight the Blazers will probably lose, but they can’t wear themselves out trying to stop Dwight, because basically nobody can do that. If they spend all their defensive energy in the paint, guys like J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, and Jason Richardson can light them up from beyond the arc. If they lose track of Hedo Turkoglu, that guy can do some damage too.
Attacking Dwight on offense might be the right course of action. If they can get him in foul trouble, and put him on the bench, then they won’t have to worry about him. That’s what Portland did against Oklahoma City, and it worked, but OKC doesn’t run their offense through their big guys. Making LaMarcus Aldridge work against Dwight on offense and on defense is going to shorten his night for sure.
Portland seems to have fallen on a winning game plan, attacking early with Gerald Wallace, getting Wesley Matthews to knock down some deep shots, establishing LaMarcus. There’s no reason they should switch up now. Just like the last few nights, the Blazers will win this game on the defensive end, the offense will probably take care of itself. If it doesn’t, they can always start fouling Dwight early, and make him earn his 40 from the charity stripe. Howard is a career 59.6% free throw shooter. Through nine games this season, that rate has dropped to 45%. Nate’s talked about extending the rotation. Why not let Luke Babbitt get a chance to foul Dwight Howard six times?
Here’s what I’ll be watching for:
- Will Portland have legs: The Blazer’s main guys racked up heavy minutes last night. They’re going to be a little gassed, that’s safe to say. The home crowd should give them a boost, but if it takes too long they could find themselves in trouble.
- How much energy will the Magic have: Orlando hasn’t played since Sunday. This is a season without many stretches of time off. Did the Magic use a day to practice and run sets? Or did they all take two maintenance days, get some shopping in at the Nike store and have a shave and a haircut? Which would be a better idea. A practice might make the team more crisp but less energetic; two days off and they might come out flat but have the wind to out work Portland.
- Will Nate extend the rotation, and if yes, how far: Nate McMillan first brought up extending the rotation last night in his post game remarks while addressing the play of Jamal Crawford. He has also mentioned using more guys due to the upcoming road trip. Add the fact that, like I said, Portland’s starters all breached the 30-minute mark last night, and there’s a chance we’ll see some changes in the rotation this evening. My guess is bench regulars Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum get in the game sooner and see more extended action, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Nolan Smith and maybe a minute or two of Elliot Williams.
- Can Portland stay perfect at home: The home crowd has been a huge boost. Following Wednesday’s game, the Blazers won’t be in the Rose City until Monday, January 23rd. That’s a long time. I’m sure these guys want to leave on a high note.
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