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Orlando Magic (17-11) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (13-15)
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Last game: Minnesota: L, 100-98 vs New York, Orlando: W, 99-94 vs Milwaukee
Minnesota let a winnable game slip away in the final minutes against New York, losing their third straight game after a three game winning streak. Rubio turned the ball over late and Jeremy Lin hit free throws to give New York their winning margin. Kevin Love’s final shot was a wild three from the corner that missed everything, and Lin-sanity (is there a hyphen? Reports vary…) continued to roll. Speaking of Kevin Love, the man dropped 32 points and 21 rebounds in the loss. Respect.
Orlando rallied late thanks to some very hot three point shooting, especially from Jason Richardson. Richardson had 31 points, including torrid 9-11 shooting from behind the arc, and 28 points in the second half.
The Key Questions
#1. Darko is still questionable for tonight. What can we expect from a Pek-Howard matchup?
The easy answer would be to expect Howard to tear Pekovic apart. After all, Howard is much quicker and more athletic than Pek. But Howard has historically struggled with defenders he can’t simply overpower with brute force. The brute force of an F4 tornado would have trouble overpowering Nikola Pekovic. Plus, despite his intimidating shoulders, Howard really isn’t any taller than Pek. It will certainly be a matchup to keep an eye on.
#2. How is it that Kevin Love can score 32 points, grab 21 rebounds, and still be a backstory in a game?
Is it fair to say that Love’s performance would have been better recognized if the Wolves had won? Or would the story then have transformed into “Jeremy Lin lost a game! Should we count him out as a point guard yet? Is he a failure?”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m enjoying Lin-sanity as much as the next guy. It’s a fun story and he looks as though he’s the real deal. It’s just…it’s just…what’s that? Why yes, these grapes I’m eating ARE incredibly sour. Thanks for asking.
#3. Orlando works almost exclusively from the perimeter or from Dwight Howard. How much of a problem could this prove?
Last season, one of the biggest holes in Minnesota’s defense was the corner three. Last year, Orlando feasted on the corner three. Last year, Orlando feasted on Minnesota.
Minnesota’s perimeter defense has, thus far, improved drastically under the tutelage of Rick Adelman. Players trust each other in help defense, which means teams swinging the ball around the perimeter are less likely to find someone completely open by accident. The Wolves will need to play really excellent, focused defense against the Magic to have any chance in this game.
The Key Matchups
Jameer Nelson is averaging career lows in points per 36 minutes, field goal percentage, and 3 point field goal percentage. Tonight, he will find himself matched up against a vastly improved point guard position for Minnesota, mostly against Ricky Rubio, but also against JJ Barea off the bench.
Ridnour will miss tonight for personal reasons. Presumably, this means Wes will switch back to the 2 guard, unless Adelman starts Wayne Ellington tonight. Either defender would be preferable over Ridnour against a large shooting guard like Jason Richardson.
We already covered Pekovic vs Howard, but what if Darko comes back? Honestly, I’m kind of hoping he doesn’t. Last season, Darko shot 62% from the field against Minnesota when Darko was in. When Milicic left the game, Howard shot just 40%. Small sample size? Perhaps, but it’s also consistent from what I remembered watching. Feel better Darko. Just…don’t feel too much better quite yet.
Finally, Ryan Anderson deserved to be an all-star in the Eastern Conference this year, strangely enough. He has been shooting incredibly well. It will be extremely important for Kevin Love to get back on defense if he doesn’t want to be punished tonight. (Translation: HEY KEVIN STOP COMPLAINING AND PLAY DEFENSE. More to come later.)
The Magic have a much better record than Minnesota, but are just one spot above the Wolves in point differential. These teams are closer than you think.
That being said, for as long as Orlando has Dwight Howard, they are an elite Eastern Conference opponent. Minnesota, sadly, plays in the toughest division of the tougher conference, and tonight is yet another tough game. Not unwinnable, but tough.
Game starts at 6 on Fox Sports North