Another day, another opportunity for the Lakers to remain undefeated on their mammoth road trip. A fifth victory would be impressive on a few levels. The Orlando Magic may not be playing their best ball at the moment -- 4-6 in their last 10 games -- but this remains a quality team just two years removed from a Finals appearance. Despite recent losses hosting the Heat and Hornets, they're 19-8 inside Amway Center. Plus, it's an early start, a scenario often inspiring less than the best out of the Lakers.
Bottom line, just about any road win represents achievement, and a W in Disney World would be no exception.
To get some insight on Dwight Howard and the gang, I contacted Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball (True Hoop network). Here are some items to keep in mind once the ball is jumped:
Q: Ever since the Magic's blockbuster shakeup, the team is 18-11, but nine of those wins were in succession. Since that streak ended, the team has basically played .500 ball. How would you evaluate the team since these moves? What are the pluses and minuses?
Eddy Rivera: For the minuses, click here. (AK's note: If you're looking for a well-detailed look at the Magic's recently poor dynamics, this is a link worth your time.)
For the pluses, well, there are not many. Hedo Turkoglu's synergy with Dwight Howard in the 3/5 pick-and-roll remains intact. There's just something with Howard's comfort level with Turkoglu that never fully surfaced when he was playing alongside Vince Carter. Of course, Howard playing with Turkoglu for five seasons before the trade has a big thing to do with that.
Also, with Rashard Lewis' departure, Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson have been able to blossom with increased minutes. Before the trades, it became harder to justify playing Lewis over Bass and Anderson. Lewis was struggling that badly, yet coach Stan Van Gundy was somewhat forced to stick with him. Nevertheless, the trades have fixed that problem.
Q: From what I'm reading, Brandon Bass is hoping to play. How much has he been missed? If he's available, how much does he help in this matchup and if he's not, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the Ryan Anderson/Earl Clark tandem?
ER: Not that much, actually.
Anderson was playing some of the best basketball of his career before Bass got injured and since he's been inserted into the starting lineup, his production has tapered off a bit. Still, Anderson has been able to produce similar to Bass even with the slight drop-off.
At the same time, Clark has absorbed the minutes that Anderson usually gets when he's coming off the bench and been a pleasant surprise. Clark's energy and effort on defense is something that has stuck out since he's been getting consistent playing time.
Not sure how much Bass will help in the matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. Even though Bass is a capable individual defender and uses his athleticism and strength to aid him in his efforts, there's no question that his height will hurt him against Pau Gasol -- arguably the most skilled offensive big man in the NBA. Bass will also have some unique problems defensively when Lamar Odom is at power forward, since he likes to attack the basket (Odom's 5.2 field goal attempts at the rim are a career-high).
Needless to say, Bass will have his hands full.
Q: For a team leading the NBA in three-pointers attempted, Orlando's percentage is pretty ordinary. In the meantime, they have that Dwight Howard fella. Is this a matter of faulty strategy? Lack of discipline? Howard not being as effective as he needs to be?
ER: Yes, yes, and no.
As the Magic continue to struggle on the perimeter, it's prompted Van Gundy to consider giving Howard more touches. At this point, given that Howard is -- clearly -- Orlando's best player offensively, that seems to be a strategy worth considering. Problem is, Howard's teammates sometimes don't do a good enough job of giving him the basketball. Part of that is their fear of Howard getting fouled and being unable to make his free throws.
But that paranoia needs to go out the window because even if Howard gets fouled, those are potential points. Given how players like Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson have been unable to produce consistently on offense, that's not a bad alternative.
It's tricky, though, because when Howard does get the ball a lot, good teams have been able to shut down the Magic's perimeter attack. So even though giving Howard the basketball more is the correct move, in theory, it's not a guarantee that it helps Orlando win games.
Q: I'm curious how the Orlando fan base has been dealing with the "Dwight might be interested in L.A." talk. It's actually gotten Lakers fans talking, despite how far-reaching this "story" really is.
ER:Magic fans are just concerned about Howard leaving. Period. Obviously it doesn't help matters when "Magic's franchise center," "Lakers" and "free agency" are in the same sentence, but it is what it is. The possibility of Howard leaving is real and it seems like the fanbase is simply trying to accept the reality of the situation.