The Thunder got a big road win last night in Philadelphia, coming back from a deficit in the 4th quarter to fight off the 76ers for the win. It was a defensive struggle for the entire night, and I think that we're going to be in for more of the same this evening. The Magic are the 4th best defensive team in the NBA, only allowing about 91 points per game. OKC really struggled in dealing with the Sixers' defense, showing a real lack of patience for most of the night. Impatience combined with bad shooting (only 10 points in the 3rd) had us all worried until the Thunder righted the ship in the 4th.
When we last visited with the Magic, it was Christmas Day, opening day for the NBA, and everybody was happy about the presents that they got to open for the new season. The Magic have once again done well this season, but their success has by and large fallen under the radar because the Dwight Howard story has dominated their news cycles. Dwight is still Dwight, but he's not quite 'Dwight.' Even at less than full concentration though, he's a handful and it is fortunate that the Thunder have his antidote.
Kendrick Perkins played a tremendous game against Howard in game one, holding Howard to 11 points on 4-12 shooting. By essentially covering Howard himself, Perkins allowed the rest of the Thunder to buckle down on their own men rather than get sucked into double-teaming situations. As a result, the Magic only shot 37% from the field and a paltry 89 points for the game.
The Magic are not as quick defensively as the Sixers, so I expect that the Thunder will get some easier looks tonight. But once again, they need to show better patience. The odds are, if a defense is giving them an open 20 footer early in the shot clock, then that is the shot the defense WANTS them to take. It is only by forgoing that quick and easy one that the Thunder can get truly creative on offense, move Russell Westbrook around, get Kevin Durant in the post, and start to take apart the defense.
I predict that the Thunder will come out shooting better tonight, but the battle will be won and lost in the trenches. Let's just hope that Perk doesn't pick up another technical.
Prediction: Thunder 105, Magic 99