Jameer Nelson will be one of the only guys Blazer fans will recognize on the "new look" Orlando Magic Monday night. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (18-15) Vs. Orlando Magic (12-21)

I grew up in a country town. I didn’t live on a farm, but I knew kids that did. When you live in rural Oregon, you become familiar with an agricultural strategy known as “controlled burning.” Wikipedia has this to say about Controlled Burning as it applies to agricultural use:

Often called field burning, this technique is used to clear the land of any existing crop residue as well as kill weeds and weed seeds.  Field burning is less expensive than most other methods such as herbicide or tillage but because it does produce smoke and other fire related pollutants, its use is not popular in agricultural areas bounded by residential housing.

Every year, farmers would burn their fields with the expectation and understanding that this burning would help facilitate the growth of their next year’s crop. Certainly they were correct in their thinking. They burned their fields every year, and every year the drive south from Corvallis to Eugene by way of Harrisburg and Peoria would be through mile upon mile of illustrious fields of food crops.

But there was that time during and right after the field burning. Those times the sky outside of town would be field with smoke, and if you decided to take the scenic route south instead of I-5, you would pass nothing but black and smoldering land.

How does my recollection of some agricultural practice from my childhood that has been illegal since 2009 pertain to Monday’s basketball game between the Blazers and the Orlando Magic? Think of the Magic as an industrious Mid-Willamette Valley farmer’s fields. Think of 2006 through 2010 as the growth and harvest of those fields. Think of some future date as the regrowth and re-harvest of those fields. Think of now as the time when everything has burned and everything is basically a smoking mess.

If Portland’s blow-up was a calculated sell-off followed by a piecemeal rebuild that might bring the Playoffs back to the Rose City in one season with little to no residual discomfort, think of Orlando’s blow-up as a controlled burn. The Magic took everything to the ground, but in a way that is conducive to not being a stinky smoking pile of garbage for all that long. Is one method better than the other? Only time will really tell.

Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson

Magic Starting 5: PG Jameer Nelson, SG Arron Afflalo, SF DeQuan Jones, PF Andrew Nicholson, C Nikola Vucevic

I wrote semi-extensively on the “trap game” theory not too long ago. If you’re looking for the perfect example of trap game potential, look no further than Monday. The Magic have lost eight in a row and are creeping toward the type of irrelevance reserved for the Washington Wizards and NOLA Pelicans Hornets of the world. Portland is riding a wave of relevance following a 3-1 road trip that included wins against two of the top five teams in the league, and have highly intelligent people questioning whether or not it’s possible for them to finish at .500 (a proposition that would have gotten you laughed right out of building if you brought it up before the start of the season).

The Magic are due for a big game (you know that old saw it’s hard to lose in the NBA nine times in a row). The Blazers are in the perfect position to overlook an opponent (this next stretch has a brutal three-game four-nighter that includes home games against both participants in the last NBA Finals and a date in Oakland with arguably the league’s newest new hotness). All the elements are there, so be ready Blazer fans.

I do think, though, Portland might be able to get lucky and avoid Monday’s trap. Here are my reasons why: the Blazers have been trounced once at home already by a not great team in their first game back in the RG after a road trip, Orlando now is not the Orlando team that will shoot their opponent out of the building even if they’ve still got a few of those guys left on their roster, and Portland probably has looked at the schedule, and they probably do realize that if they lose Monday’s game their best chance to get another win will be a week from this coming Wednesday.

Losing to the Kings to start December’s home stand was a real wake-up call for Portland. If this team wants to have any kind of sustainable success in 2012-13, they need to take care of home. Part of taking care of their own building means not expecting other teams, especially bad teams, to come in a roll over, that’s not how the NBA works. If the Blazers had not overlooked the Kings and had not been blown out of their own gym by a bad team, I would say the odds of them getting worked by the Magic were very high. But as the 43rd President of the United States once memorably said: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me…you can’t get fooled again.”

As for this match-up not being favorable for the visiting team shooting Portland out of the gym, the Magic are lacking in one key element, an inside scoring threat. The Kings are jump shooters with an interior scorer who enables all those open jump shots. The Magic of old were the same thing only on a higher level. Sure this Orlando team still has J.J. Reddick and Jameer Nelson, guys that can and will shoot the three, and Arron Afflalo, a guy with a very serviceable mid-range game, but without Dwight Howard in the middle, the threes just aren’t as open as they once were. Yes Portland is going to give up a lot of threes on Monday, but if they can keep the Magic from shoot 40% from deep, those threes will be mitigated by the fact that Orlando doesn’t have a real interior threat.

And finally, overlooking an opponent is easy when the next three coming down the pike are the Heat, the Thunder, and the newly amazing Golden State Warriors. But I would postulate that maybe that selection of opponents is too good for Portland to look beyond the task at hand. Think about it like this, if the Blazers get one win in those three, it will very likely be the victory of the season. Because of that, they must be aware of the importance of winning on Monday. A 3-1 road trip is great, but following it up with four straight losses (or five straight because after playing the Thunder at home Portland has to travel to Denver) is the exact opposite of great.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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