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Thunder challenge fast and furious Magic

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The Magic just beat the Blazers and Bulls. What's up with that, and what can the Thunder do to stop them?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chances are, you haven't seen very much of the Orlando Magic this season. They don't have any household names on their roster, they play in a small market,  and they never appear on national TV. Still, you probably know that they gutted their roster post-Dwight, and decided to develop their team with a bunch of high draft picks.

So, how good are these young Magic? Well, last Monday, Orlando managed to ride sublime performances from Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo to a 121-114 victory over the Chicago Bulls. The Magic weren't finished though, as they managed to ride Oladipo and Vucevic to another win on Wednesday. This time, it was against the Rockets.

Those two victories are nothing to sneeze at. The Magic were able to outscore two of the league's more powerful teams. Even scarier? The Magic were beating the Rockets and Bulls as their own game. Zach Oliver over at Orlando Pinstriped Post explains it for us:

"After a disappointing 84-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers Friday, the Magic decided it was time for a change. As the players put it, they and coach Jacque Vaughn chose to pick up the pace and find more efficient, quicker ways to score. Since laying that egg against the Lakers, the Magic have looked fresh and energized, thanks in large part to their young starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.

Those two, along with rookie swingman Devyn Marble, have not only instilled a better defensive mindset in the team, but also a better flow and pace with the offense. Having those three out there--all of whom have experience playing the point--gives the Magic a lot of options. They're able to push it with three different players, while also moving the ball at a quick, high level.

Not only has the pace increase helped those three, it's also helped Channing Frye, who came to Orlando after playing for the uptempo Phoenix Suns."

Of course, the Magic quickly fell back to earth when they saw our old friends, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies slowed things down against the Magic, and Memphis was able to bully their way to a 106-96 victory. Don't get me wrong, the Magic still had effective ways of stopping the Grizzly bigs. But Memphis basically attacked the paint and got to the line all game, and forced the Magic to execute in the half-court on the other end. Furthermore, the egregious amount of boards acquired by Gasol and Randolph (28 total) helped the Grizzlies have more possessions overall.

So when the Thunder play the Orlando Magic tonight, I want to see Perk. I don't care how many open pick and pops the Grizzlies might get. I also want to see Ibaka and Collison get most of the power forward minutes, aside from when we run our deadly Westbrook-Jackson-Waiters-Durant-Ibaka lineup. Simply put, the Magic are perfectly capable of outscoring a run and gun team on any given night. So the Thunder need to take care of the ball and do all they can to not get caught up in the Magic's wheelhouse.

In the Thunder's last game against the Warriors, Big Blue was largely successful because they were able to constantly pressure Golden State's stars. Curry was constantly denied, as was Thompson. They had to constantly fork over possessions to less reliable hands, like those of Mo Speights and Harrison Barnes. Barnes turned out to be terrible and Speights faded late, forcing a Warrior loss.

Tonight, I'm hoping the Thunder don't continue a strategy of trying to shut down the other team's stars. Let Oladipo have his points, and let Vucevic have his. These players aren't nearly as proven on an NBA level as Curry and Thompson are, and I'd rather the Thunder focus on covering all five guys. Every single player on the Magic roster can shoot, and they'll burn you if you leave them open. I mean, look at how the Blazers beat the "newly fast" Magic on January 10th. The Magic won the rebounding battle and the turnover battle, but lost by 11 because they shot 40% while Portland shot 47%.

Anyway, I'm expecting tonight's game to be exciting, no matter how close it is in the end. All of the Thunder's stars are coming off stellar performances, Morrow is shooting well, and Adams and Roberson continue to be guys who fill in all of the little things. We might finally be witnessing the Thunder team that can take us all the way, and I'd really like to see them kick some Magic butt tonight.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 111, Orlando Magic 100.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 39
(Won 1)

(Lost 1)
January 18th, 2014
Amway Arena, Orlando, Florida
5:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Florida
Injury Report: Aaron Gordon (Questionable), Mitch McGary, Tobias Harris(Out)
Last Season's Matchups: Dec 15 (W 101-98), Feb 7 (W 103-102)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Elfrid Payton
Andre Roberson SG Victor Oladipo
Kevin Durant SF Devyn Marble
Serge Ibaka PF Channing Frye
Steven Adams C Nikola Vucevic