In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
Dwight Howard v. Al Jefferson – On one hand you have Howard: a battle tested, 6’11” 265 lbs, defensive beast. On the other you have Jefferson: A relatively untested, 6’10” 280 lb, offensive low block power. These two are nearly a wash, size wise (although you can bet that Dwight will be chiseled and in game shape come opening tip), so it’ll be fantastic to see them battle on either end for big man domination. It’s no secret that Al was a little heavy when he weighed in at training camp, so here’s to the rigor of Jerry Sloan’s intense preseason workouts that will hopefully have him game-ready come Orlando time.
Vince Carter v. Raja Bell – Carter is one of the most amazing offensive players I have ever seen, and he’s (allegedly) looked good this preseason. He’s athletic, strong, has a silky smooth jump shot, and last season showed us that he still has all the moves… when he bothers to play. He’s 33 and has a propensity to disappear in important games, but he’s also playing for a contract this year and (whether they like it or not) stands as the Magic’s most potent go-to threat. Conversely, Raja Bell is the newly proclaimed stopper for the Jazz, and if he has the guts to clothesline Kobe, he won’t fear getting up in Carter’s business. How Carter reacts to Bell’s tenacious defense within the Jazz system will be the most interesting storyline in these games. Will Vince rise to the challenge and use his athleticism to play above Bell, or will he shrug off the necessary work and let one of his many wing back-ups pick up the slack?
The Magic finished 1st in the Southeast division last year with the 4th best offensive rating in the NBA. They also had the 3rd best defensive rating in the league. Unfortunately, they also allowed the 4th most points by an opponent of all 30 teams, and got dispensed by the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. Seeding from a great regular season doesn’t mean much if you can’t come up big when it counts.
Last season the Jazz played two games against Orlando and each squad won on their respective home courts.
On Dec. 10 in Salt Lake City, Deron Williams scored 34 points to lead the Jazz past Carter’s own 34 points, and Howard’s 18 points & 10 rebounds. With that win, the Jazz broke the Magic’s franchise-record eight-game road winning streak.
On Dec. 21, the Magic returned the favor in Orlando. Dwight Howard led the Magic to a win with 21 points and five blocks (um… yeah. FIVE). The Magic scored 64 points in the second half of that game on their way to a 104-99 victory over the Jazz.
In the random stat department: the last time an opponent had a 20/20 game versus the Jazz was on March 15, 2009. Guess who the player was? Yep. Dwight Howard (28 pts, 20 rebs).
Stan Van Gundy is one of the rare coaches that seems to successfully walk the fine line of player coach and disciplinarian. He calls out his players in the media, yet he always finds their forgiveness with spontaneous goofiness. He trusts his shooters, and constantly preaches defensive uniformity. He’s good, and in the past two years Van Gundy has helped the Magic finish 18 games over .500 (in each year). He’s one of my favorite coaches not named Sloan. He doesn’t lie down for garbage from players, he plays his fair share of mind games in the media, and he always seems to have a good time with it.
Jerry Sloan’s all time win/loss record against the Magic is 24/19. Since Jerry Sloan was named head coach by the Jazz in 1988, the Orlando Magic have had eight coaching changes.
The Magic are a good team hovering at the top of an increasingly crowded east. After getting axed last year by the Celtics, you would think that the Magic would try and reload with better weapons. Instead they settled for a Quentin Richardson downgrade (for Matt Barnes) and sending Howard to summer camp with Hakeem Olajuwon (who is hoping to return with some more refined low post moves). I like Orlando’s team and coach, and I’d love to see them compete hard for an Eastern Conference title. Unfortunately, without any additional movement or major player changes, I think we’ll see much of the same out of Orlando: a strong regular season with a mid-round exit in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
[CAVEAT: If Vince plays up this contract year, Howard really does learn some subtle low post moves, if Rashard Lewis pulls it together on a consistent basis, and Van Gundy learns how to use Reddick effectively (who is a total stud), then these guys could be really, really scary. They just haven’t shown that they can do it on the big stage yet, and the Celtics have. Give me something to believe in Orlando!]