Boston: 107.9 points/100 possessions (13th)
Orlando: 108.3 points/100 possessions (11th)
Boston: 101.4 points allowed/100 possessions (1st)
Orlando: 103.2 points allowed/100 possessions (4th)
Thumbnail: The C’s start a brutal three-game stretch with their third game against Orlando this season and their first since somehow beating the Magic on Christmas without Paul Pierce.
WHAT THE MAGIC DO WELL:
• Damn near everything, really. We all know about the three-pointers (1st in makes, 7th in percentage), so let’s focus on a couple of other things. They lead the league in defensive rebounding by a nose over Cleveland and Milwaukee, and that’s not surprising, considering they have the best defensive rebounder on planet Earth.
• No team allows opponents to shoot a lower percentage on shots near the rim, according to Hoopdata. The Magic and Celtics both hold opponents to 55.5 percent shooting on lay-ups and dunks, the best mark in the league. This is another nice thing about having Dwight Howard on your team.
Both of these stats are part of a really positive overall trend for Orlando—one that bodes poorly for Boston and Cleveland: After a shaky start, the Magic are back to playing brutally tough defense. You could argue they’ve been the best defensive team in the NBA over the last 30 games. Part of that is the system, part of that is the coach, but most of it is the result of having the world’s best defender patrolling the middle. Really, Howard is that great. The fact that he gives Orlando as much as he does on offense is just unfair.
WHAT THE MAGIC DO POORLY:
Let’s be clear: There are a couple of glaring things Orlando chooses to do poorly (so to speak) and a smaller number of things they are actually bad at—not by choice, but by just being bad at them.
If someone tells you the Magic are bad at offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers because they rank poorly in those categories, they don’t quite have it right. Orlando does rank poorly in those two categories, but that’s mostly because Stan Van Gundy likes it that way. The Magic prefer safety over risk. They’d rather get back on defense than crash the offensive glass and force you to shoot a contested 18-footer instead of gambling for the steal, failing to get it and giving you and easier look.
So what are they actually bad at?
• Three-point defense. A weird chink in the armor. Opponents are shooting 36.2 percent from deep this season, up from 34.2 last year, when Orlando ranked 2nd in the league in opponent three-point shooting percentage. They rank 21st this season.
• Taking care of the ball. It’s a minor flaw compared with Boston’s tendency to piss away possession after possession, but it’s worth noting that only 10 team turn the ball over more often than the Magic.
PLAYER/S WHO MAKE ME WORRY:
• Jameer Nelson. He has shown some signs of returning to All-Star form after suffering shoulder and knee injuries over the past eight months. He scored 21 points against the Bobcats last weekend but played just 26 minutes in Orlando’s next game (against Memphis), giving way to Jason Williams for long stretches. The Magic are so much tougher when Jameer plays like an All-Star.
On Christmas, the C’s defended screen/rolls involving Nelson and Howard by having Rondo chase Jameer over the Howard screen while the C’s big men (mostly) focused on Howard rolling to the hoop. Jameer couldn’t make the C’s pay with penetration or by knocking down open two-point jumpers. Can he step up this time?
• Rashard Lewis. One of the bigger tests in the league for KG’s knee. Craig Smith showed us that Big Baby, Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins are not up to guarding mobile fours. Shard is one of the most mobile fours in the league.
PLAYER/S WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY:
• Vince Carter. He’s shooting 39 percent overall and jacking 4.7 three-pointers per game despite hitting just 30.6 percent of them. It’s a good thing he takes by far the most shots on the team. Keep shooting, Vince!
• Matt Barnes/Mickael Pietrus. Pietrus has seen his minutes dwindle as StanVan Gundy has placed Barnes firmly ahead of Air France in the team’s swing man hierarchy. I’m sorta relieved. Barnes has been the better shooter, passer and rebounder among the two this season, but Pietrus always seems to hit big shots against Boston. And Barnes is shooting just 28 percent from deep on about three (ill-advised) attempts per game.
WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR FROM BOSTON TONIGHT:
• Can the big men pass the test? KG vs. Shard. Perk vs. Dwight Howard. Rasheed Wallace vs. Somebody More Mobile Than Rasheed Wallace. Tough match-ups all around for the C’s front line. Let’s see them step up without being too physical and getting themselves into foul trouble.
• Ray Allen. He’s slumping, and things don’t get any easier for him tonight. Vince Carter is the kind of shooting guard that gives Ray problems; he’s stronger than Ray, and he can post up and take the ball to the rim. Orlando’s success against Ray on the other end has been well-documented.
• Rondo’s offense. The Magic have frustrated Rondo by keeping him away from the rim. It stymies his scoring and his ability to create for others. On Christmas, Rajon attacked the rim more aggressively than he ever had against the Magic and sunk some floaters from the mid-range area. Can he do it again?
The C’s want this game after some under-whelming performances recently. They get it, 94-91.