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2013-2014 Game 52 Preview: Thunder Face Inconsistent Magic

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Can the Magic put together the kind of offense necessary to beat the Thunder?

Lock and load.
Lock and load.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
2013-2014 NBA Season
Won 2

Won 1
February 7th, 2014
The Amway Center, Orlando, Florida
6:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Florida
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), ESPN 580 AM
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out)
Previous Matchups: Dec 15 (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson PG Jameer Nelson
Thabo Sefolosha SG Aaron Afflalo
Kevin Durant SF Tobias Harris
Serge Ibaka PF Glen Davis
Kendrick Perkins C Nikola Vucevic
2013/14 Advanced Stats
97.6 (10th) Pace 96.3 (16th)
107.4 (7th) ORtg 98.6 (T-24th)
99.1 (3rd) DRtg 104.2 (18th)

Overall, the Orlando Magic aren't a very good team. They're sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, hoping to strike gold in the 2014 lottery. Their team is young and features names you've heard of before, but they're missing a real impact player. This makes it really difficult for them to win when all of their pieces aren't working perfectly, and can lead to some blowout losses against bad teams.

Despite that, they very nearly rode a fourth quarter comeback to victory against the Westbrook-led Thunder. How did they do it? Well, I wrote a whole article about it here, but suffice it to day, the Magic are a team that likes to move the ball. Generally, any team that uses a lot of motion in their offense will succeed against the slow and lanky Thunder, and the Magic are one of those teams. Of course, the Thunder would have been able to seal an easy victory, but they ran some really terrible end of game offensive sets.

I don't think that the Magic will be able to compete with Big Blue on a third straight occasion, simply because they're not very good at managing their possessions. Their rebounding differential of -2.9 ranks as 25th in the NBA, they're the league's 6th worst team at forcing turnovers, and they only rank 22nd in free throws attempted per game. Those three categories represent the easiest ways to jump start an offense, and Orlando ranks near the bottom in every single one of them.

That being said, the name everyone will be focused on tonight is Aaron Afflalo. He's not too remarkable of a player on his own, but in the context of the Magic's offense, he's deadly. As noted by Mike Prada, he tends to score when he moves without the ball. Appropriately, the Thunder are notoriously bad at closing out on shooters, and he had the best performance during the first time these two teams played.

Another noteworthy player is Victor Oladipo, the second pick in last year's draft. He's had a cautiously optimistic rookie season, posting decent offensive efficiency, showcasing some beautiful touch around the rim, and putting in work to improve his passing game. His real mark is made on the defensive end though, where he uses his quickness and athleticism to average 1.8 steals per game. More often then not, those steals lead to quick fast-break points.

You can't forget Tobias Harris. He's far from a household name and doesn't have the flashiest of games. But he does break out every now and again. Put simply, he's only 220 pounds at 6'9", so he isn't exactly a bruiser. However, he's great as using his momentum to gain position in the paint, and he has an uncanny ability to score in traffic. He's also got a decent long range shot, though he never takes more than a couple in a game.

The rest of the Magic are a collection of forgotten role players or promising upstarts. Nikola Vucevic will get you double-doubles, but rarely breaks out for 20 or more. Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson ably man their positions, but are probably suited for the bench on most contenders. Andre Nicholson has a nice post up game, but has seen his production curbed dramatically as of late. Rounding out the lineup are E'Twaun Moore, Kyle O'Quinn, and Doron Lamb, three players who either feature apostrophes in their names or share a name with a man named Jeremy.

All in all, tonight should be a matchup that's competitive until about midway through the fourth quarter. The Magic's individual defensive talent and quickness should keep the Thunder from racking up the score, while their motion on offense should net them a few points. But when push comes to shove, the Magic aren't going to be able to keep scoring pace with the Thunder's talent late in the fourth. I hope so, at least. We're getting to the point in the season where lower-rung teams become notoriously snippy, and the Thunder are bound to start dropping trap games any time soon.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 104, Orlando Magic 94.

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