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Toronto Raptors Orlando Magic January 21, 2011

The team that beat the Magic in Orlando earlier in the season is a far better one than the one rolling into town now; never mind that the Magic are also a much better team now. Don’t expect the same result, I can’t stress this enough.

Injuries

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Leandro Barbosa – Out
Sonny Weems  – Out
Linas Kleiza – Day to day

Orlando
Malik Allen – Day to day
Jameer Nelson – Day tod ay

Match-ups

Point Guard
For anyone who didn’t get concerned about the Magic after the two big trades: you haven’t been paying attention. While the Arenas trade may have been unnecessary, and potentially has hurt the front court depth, you can’t deny that having multiple playmakers come playoff time is crucial. It frees up Nelson from the burden of playmaking, to scoring and swinging the ball. After a few games to adjust, Jameer is shooting 48% from behind the arc in January while averaging 6.4ast. 60% of his shots come outside of 18feet. What’s interesting is how he’s getting those assists; on average, 2.5 ofthem result in a three, and 2.2 of them at the rim. So two-thirds of his passes result in some sort of open-look off that high screen.

The lame use of stats is meant to illustrate what kind of battle Jose should expect tonight: Jameer likes the perimeter. Leaving him to double will result in an open look that he’s all too happy to take, or even worse, when Jose runs to close him out, he blows by him and puts pressure on our defense in the paint where the options of what to do are limitless since everyone is worried about Howard.

You can officially put me in the “don’t trade Jose unless you get something really valuable back” camp. One of the best parts of this season has been-being able to sit through a game and not be upset about the effort; Jose is a big reason for that. In January, the kid is averaging 12pts 11ast; coming 1 rebound shy of a triple-double against the Wizards. With so much history since the last year we were in the playoffs, there’s going to be some nice back-and-forth with these two. I haven’t even mentioned Arenas, who frankly, I’ve expected a bit more from since the trade. The good news for the Raptors is that he pretty much spends all his time on the arc hoping to jack it up. Not sure if he’s fully recovered from that injury a few years ago, but he doesn’t seem to like to put the ball on the floor and take his man off the dribble. I’ve got my eye on this Gaines kid, who’s quickly playing Bayless out of some minutes.
Edge: Even

Shooting Guard
This is where things start to go really wrong for the Raptors.  It took a few weeks to get used to a totally different system than what he enjoyed in Phoenix, but Jason Richardson hasn’t lost a step. He must be relishing playing for a contender after getting to the conference finals last year. Half his shots (in a Magic uniform) come from behind the arc, and 94% of those are assisted. The guy is a catch and shoot player, and hits them rather efficiently, 44% since being traded from the Suns. Where DeMar can hurt him is off the dribble and in transition where Richardson lateral movements limit his defensive effectiveness.

I like the Raptors offense much better with DeMar as the focal point. He’s attacking the basket off the dribble, and picking his spots to take an 18 foot jumper. The shot still doesn’t inspire 100% confidence in me, but all that work in the gym seems to be paying off. If I’m DeMar, I’d be on the phone with Dave Hopla for some private shooting instruction, doesn’t even matter what it costs; he’ll more than make up for it on his next contract if he develops a consistent mid-range game.

As much as I appreciate DeRozan’s recent emergence, he needs to work harder at other aspects the game. He has the physical/athletic prowess to be a tremendous defensive player for the Raptors on the wing. One area of immediate improvement could be his ball distribution when he drives through the paint and gets doubled; passing to an open shooter could rack up easy assists for him.
Edge: Magic

Small Forward
The Turkoglu we played in the win against the Suns won’t be the same one we play tonight in Orlando. This one thrives in half-court offenses that afford him room and space to create for others off that high pick-n-roll. He’s not the same Hedo that went to the NBA finals either, but a triple-double and a 17 assist game since coming back can’t be overlooked.

I worry about the pick-n-roll defense, since Bargnani will struggle to both hedge on Hedo, as well as defend a rolling Howard. There will be lots of defensive slack for Julian Wright to pick up, and he needs to be up for the task. I like that Wright is long and can fight through screens a bit more aggressively then we’ve become accustomed too.

Wright (and Kleiza if he’s healthy) will also have to battle Hedo on the boards where he does a great job of complimenting Howard. Full Disclosure: even though I felt like a dirty traitor, I picked up Hedo on waivers, and he’s done very well for me. The guy contributes all over the map, with the only knock being he doesn’t play defense at a high-level.

Oh yea, watch the three; he’s been shooting it at over 44% since getting traded.
Edge: Magic

Power Forward
I really thought Johnson and Davis would bring the goods against the Spurs, and to a degree they did, but they clearly got their butts handed to them on a platter by Dajuan Blair, who’s an absolute beast. Notwithstanding Blair, the Raps front court did a pretty good job (minus Bargnani’s contribution).

Tell me you don’t like the pairing of Amir and Ed Up front. Defense and rebounding aren’t an issue, with the offense looking a bit more fluid with DeRozan taking the lions share of the responsibility. I appreciate them putting it all on the floor, and growing into their roles as guys who contribute across the board as important role players (Davis might prove to be more given the chance, Amir is what he is).

I’m willing to bet that Amir/Ed will be checking Howard during key stretches of the game, and probably doing a better job of it than Bargs. I also like Howard checking either of them on defense, since they live in the paint, and can substitute in and out quickly to give Dwight fresh legs to constantly deal with. Not saying they will score on him at will, but they are active and could force Dwight into some early foul trouble.
Edge: Toronto

Center
It gave me the warm-fuzzies when Triano decided to flex some coaching muscle, and benching Bargnani when it was clear he was hurting the team. Lets hope Bargnani got the message loud and clear. That said, Bargnani isn’t the kind of the player who can fall back on other aspects of his game when the shots aren’t falling. 90% of his effectiveness comes from his scoring, and if he’s not shooting well, then he’s as useless as Arsenalist cruising at Hemingways on a Friday night.

The shot needs to be there tonight from the tip, since Bass/Anderson have no chance checking him on the perimeter. He can shoot over both, and back both down into the paint for short turn-around-half-hooks. Even off the dribble, no one on the Magic can check the guy. He’s got so much offensive ability, it’s really comical he doesn’t average 25 a game consistently. A lot of that comes from his sick tendencies of stepping inside the arc and launching low percentage jumpers; his efficiency crashes when this happens.
Edge: Magic

Keys to the Game

Defend the Pick-n-Roll Aggressively
It’s going to come hard, and with a lot of furry.  The guy being screened will have to fight through them, and the guy defending the picker will have to hedge and buy some time for the defense to recover and set itself.

Perimeter Defense
Dwight Howard commands so much attention, that Magic shooters get a lot of looks, good ones, from the perimeter. Pick-n-roll defense is one aspect of this, another is how many doubles we through at Howard in the paint. The Magic are surprisingly 25th in the league in assists, so their offense is a lot of catch-and-shoots, which doesn’t give a lot of time for defensive rotations to play catch-up.

Don’t Give Hedo any Satisfaction
Easier said than done with the team he’s playing on, but I don’t want to see him smiling and laughing it up because of he’s on route to a triple-double.

The Line

The gamblers have the Magic as 11.5 point favourites, with an over/under of 207. The Magic play a slow pace, but are deliberate and damn efficient at it. The Raptors can’t spot them 10 points to start the game, since they will grind the game to slower pace, and pick us apart. Not much hope here tonight; just need to play our game and keep developing good habits. Since we got the Heat tomorrow night, you might see Triano shut things down if the Magic run away with this early to keep guys as fresh as possible for Bosh & co.