By Kevin Sawyer
Magic: 24-6 (11-3 road)
Margin: +7.5 ppg (+7.7 road)
Last 10: 9-1 (margin +11.8)
Pistons: 17-11 (9-5 home)
Margin: +0.4 ppg (+2.8 home)
Last 10: 6-4 (margin +0.3)
Indeed, the team that didn’t give Detroit much of a fight in the playoffs last year has, without any substantive personnel changes, morphed into a powerhouse. The Magic have silenced critics who pointed to their early schedule by winning 11 of 12 against a slate that included the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz and Blazers.
The biggest difference this year has been the inspired play of Jameer Nelson, who is averaging 20 ppg on 58% shooting in December, and a ridiculous 61% from three point range. His performance has been enough to offset Hedo Turkoglu’s predictable return to earth after last year’s excellent campaign.
Of course, the Magic still have Dwight Howard, who has established himself as a defensive force. Together with newly acquired defensive stopper Pietrus, he leads a team that allows a stingy 42.5% field goal percentage, all without fouling excessively. As a result, the Magic are the leagues third best defensive squad.
On the offensive end, the Magic offer few surprises. Howard on the post and TONS of three pointers.
Given his hot shooting stroke, maybe Jameer Nelson will focus on playing basketball instead of judo leg-sweeps. Chauncey plays for Denver, but I haven’t forgotten.
Keys for Detroit:
Guard Jameer Nelson: Nelson has benefited from the perception that Hedo Turkoglu is a greater offensive threat than he is. Nobody shoots 60% from three point range unless defenses are utterly ignoring them.
Ditch small ball: Irrespective of the system’s merits, it won’t work against this team. Prince has shown that he can stop Hedo Turkoglu, which will allow Detroit to stay on their defensive assignments. With Hamilton possibly out another game with injury, coach Curry might not have a choice.
Send Howard to the line: Given that the Magic average 1.28 points per shot, consider this the equivalent of an intentional walk. As usual, Howard is starting to wear down as the season progresses, so aggressive defense will also mean more minutes for Marcin Gortat, though the latter has acquitted himself nicely in limited minutes.
Question of the game:
I’ll defer to McCosky on this one. Will it be small ball or basketball in this one? Curry might be able to use Hamilton’s injury as an excuse to get one more look at what Detroit can do with a normal lineup. A win tonight would certainly help make a decision either way.