It would be hard to say that the Magic are in a bad place right now. Sure, they're losing games in bushels, they lost Dwight Howard, and nobody's paying much attention to them in the sad East. But they have a young roster full of promising talent and valuable role players, one that could be very scary next year with the addition of whomever they get early in the 2014 Draft.
For now though, the Magic are an up and down team. They've shown their mettle before by beating the Clippers early in the season and enduring a two point loss to Miami, but there are definitely times where the team will get creamed. They don't have a star to carry them through the bad times, and their smaller size can lead to some bad nights on the boards.
Generally, if the Magic are going to win games, they're going to do it with an efficient offensive attack. They've shot 45% or above in five of their seven victories, with the other two victories coming to the offensively inept Bobcats and Bucks. That's not to say that bad shooting is a problem in losses, but it is saying that the Magic will almost always lose the possession battle, forcing their team to rely on offense if they want a victory.
Last season, the Thunder were generally good against the Magic during their two encounters. However, the Magic were able to go on late runs in both games. It's mostly because those games came during a stretch where the Thunder were playing some really bad basketball. It's hard to pin exactly what was wrong with the Thunder at that point, but you definitely got the feeling that they were forcing their style of play on other teams, rather than adjusting according to their strengths and weaknesses.
This season's Magic team is definitely better than last season's, as they were dealing with a rash of injuries and didn't have the level of talent that they now do. Still, it's really hard to see the Thunder dropping this one. Throughout the season, the Magic simply haven't demonstrated the ability to shut down (or even bother) a good offensive team. They'll score well on their own, but usually they simply can't keep up, and I think that will be the case tonight.
Looking at individual players, Tobias Harris will be playing in his second game returning from a nagging ankle injury last season. He was a huge asset for the Magic last season, averaging a quiet 17.3 points per game while stretching out opposing power forwards with his solid jump shot. Normally I'd say he could be an impact player tonight, but he shot a combined 7-27 (or 26%) against the Thunder last season, so I'm not too worried about his contribution.
Another individual player worth noting is Maurice Harkless, who was all that and a bag of chips against the Thunder last season. He had a monster performance in the latter matchup, scoring 25 points on 61% shooting while also adding 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals, and 4 blocks. His success didn't really stick after that game though, and he's found himself slowly falling out of the packed big man rotation in Orlando. Harris' return earned him a DNP-CD in Friday's loss to Cleveland, so it will be interesting to see how he performs tonight.
On the Thunder's side of things, Thabo Sefolosha has been injured for three games with a sore knee. He was a game-time decision for Friday's game against the Lakers, so it's a distinct possibility that he'll be good to go for tonight. But with the quality of opponent the Thunder are facing and Andre Roberson's success in filling Thabo's role, I wouldn't be surprised if the Thunder held him out again as a precaution.
In terms of minute distribution, Nick Collison was held to just 5 minutes on the floor in Friday's win. His performance was so-so, but considering Collison's age and the blowout-ish nature of the game, it was probably primarily a precautionary measure. Steven Adams was also held out of Garbage Time, presumably due to the sprained ankle he sustained in Wednesday's game against the Grizzlies. By all accounts, I'd expect the rotation to continue as normal unless the game enters blowout mode tonight.
Lastly, I think it's worth noting that if this game goes to blowout mode, we have a high chance of seeing Jeremy Lamb match up with his long-lost brother, Doron Lamb. Baa!
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 114, Orlando Magic 105.
How do you think tonight's game will go? Let us know in the poll and comments!