pic

There will be no Vince Carter tribute at the ACC because he declined any such possible ovation/appreciation/boos. Turns out he’s smart enough to figure out that half the fans in the building wouldn’t stick to what the jumbotron tells them to do and would start raining down cat-calls and boos and showing off their Jorge Garbajosa modded jerseys. It’s a shame. On to matters of greater importance, Andrea Bargnani and Antoine Wright missed Saturday’s practice because of the flu and are game-time decisions for this revenge mission which sees all three Magic players that missed the earlier encounter back in the lineup. Belinelli also didn’t practice due to a sprained groin. The Magic missing Jameer Nelson but that’s the extent of their woes as evidenced by their impressive scalping of Boston in Boston.

The Heat game was about as easy as a west-coast return game could be and it was good to see us put business right. The Miami comeback was a warning sign that a team which doesn’t play defense can never quite put a game away, especially if the offense is of a jump-shooting nature. The Raptors do lack the killer-instinct that’s almost mandatory if you’re going to have sustained success, but you hope that we’re gradually building towards that as the nine new faces start figuring out their roles.

The Magic have won four straight and are an elite team by every account, but does that mean a win at home is too much to ask? I don’t think so, the Raptors should be fired up for this game like no other. In our first encounter we had a miserable first half where we didn’t play any defense, got down by 20 and were fighting back for the rest of the game. We made a second-half run which came up just short but did end the game on as good a note as one can in a loss. Sure, it was downright embarrassing considering they were without Lewis, Pietrus and Carter but the strong finish was still something to build on. If we’re serious about 4th seed contention, it means we need to win some games against the better teams in the NBA and a Sunday home date sounds like an ideal opportunity to notch a headlining W. It’s also a chance to get revenge for our only home loss of the season (4-1).

Matchups

The Point: Nelson went off for 30 last time we played them and yes, they were against Calderon. Sometimes the PG isn’t to blame for his counterpart’s big game but that was not one of those times. We catch a break as Jason Williams gets the call for the Magic which in theory should hand Calderon an advantage, but I’m too well-versed in my Raptor history to know that things are as simple as that. Calderon is the only Raptor whose game you just can’t predict, he’s as liable to go 15/4/9 as he is to go 4/2/3 these days, I’m not even sure what it’s dependent on. I think he waits to see what others are doing before deciding whether this is a game where he’ll be an offensive factor, get rid of that mentality and be aggressive from the start. It’s much easier to get your teammates involved if you’re an established threat, something he hasn’t figured out yet. JJ Redick had a big impact in the second half including a couple blow-bys against Jarrett Jack that made you cringe, let’s see how the favor is returned by the now “in form” Jack.

The Skill: This is a classic matchup of the Raptors’ past and future. DeMar DeRozan, the man we’re counting to bring the excitement, athelticism and flare against the only man who ever succeeded in bringing that to Toronto. Carter is coming off a big 10-point fourth quarter in Boston which included a late tie-breaking fadeaway which gave the Magic the lead for good. After Stan Van Gundy called Carter to be more selfish, Vince responded by taking 29 shots but made only 10 and had six turnovers. If you ask the Magic, that’s a good thing because at least he was involved in the game instead of showing up on occasion to shoot a jumper. He’s shooting 42% from the field and three this year but since he’s playing the Raps, you can throw the stats out the window. DeRozan will have his hands full but let him not forget that Carter does not like playing defense and can be had if you move without the ball. Vince is terrible at sticking to his cover because he’s got an attention span of a moth. I think DeRozan will get his points but it’s his defense that we’ll rely on, especially if Wright is out. Anybody catch this pic of how high he can jump?

The Big: Orlando is much easier to beat if Howard is on the bench. The easiest way to send Howard on the bench is through foul trouble and on paper we have two perfect weapons for that – Bosh and Bargnani. I’d like the Raptors to go right at Howard on the first five possession of the game, it doesn’t even matter if we score or not but our first five offensive plays should all be either Bosh or Bargnani going right at Howard or a wing drive which forces Howard to help. I think we let him dictate the game too much and should put him in a defensive mode of thinking by being aggressive. There’s a good chance Ryan Anderson isn’t going to hit five threes again and the Magic will need his offense to keep up, no better place to hit them hard then right in the middle. BTW, after going 14-16 FT against us, he’s gone back to shooting 57% from the stripe.

The Strong: Rashard Lewis’ jumper looks like a catapult, it’s one of those releases that’s unique, effective and one which every shooting coach warns against. Bosh will need to play much more sustained defense today than he did against Beasley. Lewis, a career 40% shooter from three, is only hitting 23% so far this year but that’s likely because he missed the first 10 games due to suspension and is still finding his way. He’s coming off a solid 16/10 game against Kevin Garnett so Bosh’s defense won’t exactly be bothering him much. Bosh will have to contend with Lewis’ perimeter game while being cognizant of his drive ability. A tough matchup to say the least, I’d flirt with the idea of putting Amir Johnson on Lewis and see how he fares. If Lewis doesn’t burn him from deep, you know Johnson can hold his own against a frailer type like Lewis down low. Bosh and Bargnani will inevitably be guarding Ryan Anderson at some point and they need to take what he did to them last time personally. Bosh had 35/16 last time, don’t know if a sign of him scoring that much is necessarily a good thing because it usually means he’s the only thing going.

The Wing: Whenever two old teammates face each other on different teams, the advantage usually goes to the defense since it’s on that end that tacit knowledge works better. I hate it when Turkoglu goes 1on1 but I love it when Turkoglu looks for his shot after brushing his defender off a couple screens. You had to like the efficiency he showed against the Heat – 19/5/8 on 9 shots. Things will get tougher because Mickael Pietrus is a better defender than James Jones. The Magic are 8th in the league in defensive rating and a lot has to do with their ability to effectively switch on 2/3/4 screens. You’ll see Lewis and Anderson also guarding the Turk and it’s perhaps on the switches that he should look to get his, I don’t see him being able to create effectively today simply because the Magic can handle him using single-coverage.

The Bench: The Raptors bench is averaging 33.4 points over the last five games, Marco Belinelli’s resurgence has been the main reason for that and Jack’s 17 points against the Heat didn’t hurt. Before having a quiet night against the Heat, Belinelli had dropped 15, 11, 16 and 19 prior to that. After a slow start, he’s now shooting 48% FG and 47% 3FG for the season. Ex-Net Ryan Anderson is the leading point-getter off the bench for the Magic with 13.2. After that Redick, Bass and Barnes all average around 9 – they were all awfully quiet against Boston as the entire Magic bench only mustered up 11 points. Amir Johnson seems to have come around, so has Belinelli, now if only Jack could do the same…

How to win this game

  • Get Howard involved in pick ‘n roll situations early. Force him to defend.
  • Help off the right guy – Redick, Anderson and Lewis are not to be left open. Make Jason Williams make a couple before showing him any respect.
  • We are dead last in steals per game and 29th in turnovers forced. No wonder we’re the worst defensive teams in the league. I’m not 100% certain whether we have the personnel to execute this, but in an effort to get some easy points and get some energy in the game, the Raptors might want to test Williams’ ball-handling skills and trap early. A few wasted seconds off the shot-clock means less time for Howard to bang in the post and start those killer swing sequences.
  • No threes. The Magic attempt and make the second most threes in the league, it’s a big part of their game. If Bargnani can handle Howard 1-on-1and we prevent penetration from Williams and Lewis, we can take away a huge part of their offense.
  • If Howard proves to be too much to handle, double hard. One of the main purposes of a double-team is to pressure the offensive player into making a bad decision. A double-team for the sake of a double-team never works because it’s usually uninspired and the offensive player has no trouble in giving up the ball and forcing you to rotate.
  • Take some pride and don’t let scrubs beat you.

Ratings

Raptors Magic
SRS: -0.30 (18th of 30)
Pace Factor: 92.9 (14th of 30)
Offensive Rating: 115.2 (1st of 30)
Defensive Rating: 116.4 (30th of 30)
SRS: 4.21 (9th of 30)
Pace Factor: 92.1 (19th of 30)
Offensive Rating: 107.6 (11th of 30)
Defensive Rating: 101.5 (8th of 30)

Magic Form: L W W L W L W W W W
Raptors Form: W W L L W W L L L W

Prediction

Visser‘s sims are 10-3 this year and this time the crystal ball is predicting a 127-102 Magic win. The Magic are a 3 point favorite and although experience tells me that it’s a good bet, I already committed to the Raptors taking this one so will hold my stance.