Orlando Magic (0-0) at Oklahoma City Thunder (0-0)
Well the Regular season is finally here! While the Oklahoma City Thunder are a big favorite to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, the Thunder will have a mighty tough road to get there. Oklahoma City will open up the season against this feisty opponent.
Orlando is coming off a season in which they lost in the first round of playoffs for the first time since 2006-2007, where they were swept by the Detroit Pistons 4-0.
Magic are led by their All-NBA Center, Dwight Howard. Howard is the three time defensive player of the year and he’s expected to win the award again. However, Howard has been heading the news out of Orlando early in the preseason, not for his on the court accolades, but because he wants out of Orlando. It’s well documented that he feels he isn’t going to win a title in Orlando and has requested a trade. No one knows how this is going to effect his court play. We’ll definitely find out tonight and as the season goes on.
If you’ve never seen the Magic play, they shoot the three, and they shoot it often. Orlando led the league last year with 25.6 three point shot attempts per game. They hit about nine per game. Good enough to finish tenth best three point shooting team in the league. Only players not shooting threes is the centers, Big Baby Davis and Howard. Their power foward, Ryan Anderson, ranked 25th in three point attempts last season with 341. He hit 39% of them. They can shoot.
One thing Magic do better than shoot threes, is play defense. Magic had a defensive rating of 98.9 last season (NBA average is 104.4.) Only 4 teams were under 100 last year, and the Magic were right there. Orlando has been in the top three defensively for the past three seasons. I guess it helps when you have the three time reigning defensive player of the yar on your team. Howard single handedly helps force teams to shoot outside against the Magic. Orlando forced opponents into take 51.6% of their shots from outside 16 feet. Teams are shooting just 36.5% from that area. However, when teams are able to get within the 15 feet mark, they’re shooting 51.2%.
Now, for the keys to the game:
Dwight Howard vs. Kendrick Perkins
Perkins lost 32 lbs this off season. How will the weight loss effect his ability to battle down low with some of the best men in the game? We’re definitely going to find out tonight. Howard’s defensive game hasn’t always been on when playing the Thunder. He had his worse defensive performance last time in Oklahoma City (125-124 OKC win). Perkins will need to find a way to limit Howard if there is going to be any chance of controlling the paint.
OKC was one of the best bench scoring teams in the league last season. They’re about to go against one of the best benches in the league. Orlando runs 10 deep just like OKC, and they can all shoot the three point shot. Shooters such as J.J. Redick, Quentin Richardson, Earl Clark, Chris Duhon.. just to name a few. Be very weary of how many threes actually get thrown up, could be 30+. However, Harden and the bench will have to step up their defensive game if they’re going to contest many three point shots. The key is don’t let the others beat you. Howard is going to get his points, we know that. However, don’t let someone that you’re not expecting to, beat you.
The Thunder cannot stand around and let their offense get stale, or this will be a very long Christmas evening. Last two years, Thunder have averaged 25.5 assists in the two wins against Orlando, just 17.5 in the two losses. Thunder will need to distribute the ball against this defense and not just rely on Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant. That’s why we have James Harden or a Serge Ibaka. To help on the scoring on occasion. We’ll see how this one goes.