steph

Two tough losses to the Bulls, and a split with the Knicks; groundhog’s week could have been worse. We lost Bayless and DeRozan to injury (should be back this week); Jose played 165 minutes in 4 games; and Bargnani isn’t the same guy we saw maturing to start the season. That said, they played a solid stretch of basketball against good teams, only to fall short because of a short-handed roster depleted from injury; you have to hold your head up all things considered.

The schedule isn’t lightening up, either, with the Magic, Nuggets and Heat coming to town this week. From the remaining 17 games in the season, 10 are at home, with only four of them coming against non-playoff teams (the Bobcats seem to have our number this season…). It’s actually a fitting end to a season that has been a nice surprise.

But I digress…

The task at hand is the Magic, who seem to have kissed and made up after the fiasco that was Dwight Howard’s hot mess of a situation. A quick word on Howard before moving on: I really don’t think he’s a bad guy. He really wants to win, and the team that Smith has surrounded him leaves a lot to be desired. You put in time with a franchise, giving your all, only to be rewarded with sketchy personnel decision being made by management.

It’s really reminiscent of LeBron’s situation in Cleveland, except he’s handled it much worse IMHO. You either want to be there or not, flip flopping back and forth like you’re orderding at a restaurant under duress, with a jittery waiter hovering over you, only makes you look like an douche. Sadly, we haven’t seen the end of this saga; next season is going to be a shit show for them.

This will be third meeting this season with the Magic; both losses in tight games…tight games, we’ve said that a lot this season. I’m a fan of tight games; means the Raptors were playing hard, and disrupting enough on defense to give them a chance. The game on March 5th saw just that, as the the Magic missed 19 three-point attempts. Some of that was just the Magic not hitting their shots, but you have to give the Raptors their due by closing out and rotating fairly well on the perimeter. Howard went 16-20, but Bargnani was out of the picture, forcing a short handed front-line to man-up against the best interior player in the league.

With Bayless and DeRozan both potentially out (or playing injured), their will be a lot of pressure on Calderon to play big minutes, and for for Forbes and Kleiza to exhibit some sort consistency; not to mention Bargnani regaining his form and hitting the shots that used to fall for him.

Eddy Rivera from Magic Basketball drops some knowledge:

Considering all the turmoil this teams gone through, it’s been quite the accomplishment going 31-18. SVG deserves a great deal of the credit for holding it together; should he be coach of the year?
In my opinion, no. It’s hard not to look at the job head coach Tom Thibodeau has done with the Chicago Bulls and think he doesn’t deserve the award. Being able to pilot the Bulls to the best record in the NBA (40-10) despite Derrick Rose missing 16 games speaks not only to the their excellent supporting cast but Thibodeau’s coaching.

Winning the championship this season will probably keep Howard in Orlando long term, but is there even a chance the Magic make the finals given how well the Bulls and Heat have been playing?
I think the Orlando Magic have a puncher’s chance to make it to the NBA Finals, given that Dwight Howard levels the playing field in a lot of ways against Chicago and the Miami Heat. But to expect the Magic to beat both the Bulls and Heat in a seven-game series is asking for a lot.

Not a lot on this roster in terms of assets to make any meaningful moves. Which specific moves do you see Smith making to field a championship calibre team and be able to resign Dwight?
I don’t know. That’s something that is nearly impossible to predict. With Steve Nash slated to be a free agent during the off-season, I have to imagine that Orlando will make a run after him with the mid-level exception but I don’t think that’d be enough to sign him. That is, if Nash doesn’t re-sign with the Phoenix Suns.

The Magic have had their issues dealing with Bargnani and the Raptors. What will they have to do to beat the Raptors tonight?
The Magic just have to play their game. Meaning that Dwight Howard needs to dominate on both ends of the floor, guys like Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick need to knock down some threes, and Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu need to run the offense effectively. Most importantly, though, Orlando needs to take care of the ball.

Keys to the Game

  • Fatigue is going to play a big part tonight. Both Calderon and Bargnani have been labouring, and going against a solid perimeter team that makes lots of room for their shooters is going to wreak havoc on defensive rotations. I hate pinning things on backup type players, but Bayless and Forbes will have to be on their toes. With less horses in the stable, the ones will be on everyone to play their part, and put in a full 48 at each position.
  • Howard dunks or open threes? Howard had like 5 or 6 open dunks, with the Raptors front-court standing around and watching. Say what you want about Smith, but he’s surrounded Dwight with able perimeter shooters. I’m advocating for the Raptors to stay at home on defense, and force Howard to put up 40+ points. He has a nasty habit of bricking up free throws, and if the defense isn’t collapsing on him, giving him outlet targets, he’s going to need be able to carry the offensive load.
  • Bargnani really needs to show up. Howard has had lots of problems over the years with the Italian, forcing some mis-matches the Raptors have been able to turn into upset wins. If he attacks Dwight off the dribble, forces him to come out of the paint and man him up, the complexion of the Magic defense will change. I have no doubt SVG will have some counters (throwing Anderon and Glenda at him on the perimeter), but neither of those guys has the chops to stop Bargnani if he’s feeling it.
  • Over the last five games, the Magic are 3-2 when out-rebounding their opponent. One of the luxuries of being a jump shooting team is having a guy like Dwight (or Anderson to a lesser extent) go out and grab an offensive rebound when you miss. Doesn’t even matter who’s covering Howard on defense, when that shot goes up, all five Raptors need to crash the board and limit second chance possessions.

The Line

The Magic are 8 point favourites. If the Raptors want to avoid the season sweep, they need to limit Dwight in the paint (on both ends) and close out on the shooters. If Calderon and Bargnani are forced to play heavy minutes, there will be a steady decline throughout the game that can’t be helped. I like the Magic tonight, but something tells me it will be a 1 or 2 possession win for them.