It represents a chance to avoid an 0-3 east coast roadie. A chance to keep intact a rather amazing feat of never losing three consecutive games since Pau Gasol was acquired two seasons ago. A chance to step up against elite competition, given how Orlando has gone 17-5 since the Lakers downed them on Jan. 18. A chance to win a game on the same day Jeff Bridges wins an Oscar, the latter happening far too rarely as it is. A chance to win a game when Ron Artest has Hebrew letters in his "Demolition Man" hair, an opportunity much too fun to waste.
The game also represents a chance to back fans away from the ledge, but that's another story.
With those stakes in mind, I sought perspective on the Magic from David Steele, who provides the TV play-by-play for the team. Our discussion touches on, among other topics, how the Magic's offense operates, the team's collective personality and their current roll after a lot of up-and-down stretches.
-(2:20): Steele breaks down the keys to Orlando's success since their loss at Staples, which he thinks was a turning-point game. Several factors have played a role, particularly Vince Carter's emergence. He also thinks top flight teams typically experience uninspired spells during the regular season. Lakers fans can't relate at all to that theory. (Sarcasm alert!!!)
-(6:00): Steele explains the impetus behind Carter's resurgence since February began.
-(8:20): Finally healthy, Jameer Nelson has also enjoyed a rise in production over the last month and change. In Steele's opinion, Nelson is most dangerous in "attack mode," which often means penetrating the lane.
-(11:55): Maintaining the established trend, Dwight Howard is performing at a recently beastly level. Steele dismisses the common perception Superman's teammates ignore him and explains the big man's ability to demand the ball without ruffling feathers. I also learn my wife's ginormous crush on Howard is hardly unique among the female set.
-(15:00): We discuss frontcourt reserves Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass, who've often been unsatisfied with their minutes. For Bass, it was a case of being outplayed by Ryan Anderson early in the season. Gortat's PT is almost entirely dictated by Howard's foul count.
-(19:45): We talk about Magic G.M. Otis Smith and the stamp he's put on the Orlando Magic.
A few more thoughts about the matchup below the jump...
-Between Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus, the Magic have two defenders capable of making Kobe Bryant work for his points. In January's meeting, Kobe hit just four of his nineteen shots and in both regular season games and all five Finals games last season, failed to shoot 50 percent even once. Even if Kobe weren't struggling from the field as we speak, this strikes me as an unlikely game for 24 to succeed as a dominant hero. Not that I'm a huge fan of that approach to begin with, but just saying.
-Gasol is, to say the very least, mired in a rut. However, his work defending Howard en route to the O'Brien is arguably the highlight of his NBA career and buried talk about being "soft" (for a while, if nothing else). Obviously, we'll see a fair amount of Andrew Bynum matched against Orlando's five, but there will be chances for El Spaniard. Maybe this particular mano y' mano can snap Gasol out of his funk.
-Despite Steele's statement about the Magicians looking down low more often than people think, Orlando still led the NBA in downtown attempts throughout February. No matter how often Howard is involved, they remain a team spread around him to hit from distance. Oddly enough, they're been connecting at a lower rate during this recent surge than their seasonal average. Go figure. Basketball can be a nutty game.
For more opinions, check out Forum Blue and Gold's blog exchange with Orlando Pinstriped, a reverse exchange between the same sites, and Silver Screen and Roll's preview.