The Magic-Heat rivalry has been brewing in the press, but what can we expect once the two teams take the court?
Here are five things we'll be looking at as the Magic and Heat play the first of our four regular season games tonight in Miami:
There’s an old saying that everyone deserves a second chance. Well, the Magic think that’s a garbage statement. On Thursday night’s visit to Orlando, the Wizards missed 49 of their 78 shots from the floor, and of those 49 missed field goals, only three of them landed in Washington’s hands. That’s right: three offensive rebounds. Total. In 48 minutes. Now, the Heat aren’t tissue-thin up front like the Wizards, but it’s also true that Miami collected only five offensive boards as a team against the Sixers on Wednesday night. Joel Anthony’s just about the weakest rebounding center in the NBA and got pushed around like a rag doll against Shaquille O’Neal on Tuesday night, so don’t be surprised if head coach Erik Spoelstra gives 7-foot-1 Zydrunas Ilgauskas some extra run in their home opener.
Orlando's shooters vs. Miami's perimeter D
Boston wrote the book on defending the Magic in its big win over the Magic in the conference semis last May. The Celtics' decision to moderate its strong-side pressure defense in the half court in favor of something that looked a lot more like a vintage Spurs scheme was the key Boston's success. Rather than load up on the ball side of the floor, Boston deployed a stay-at-home strategy and gave the Magic precious little space on the perimeter. Spoelstra is a flexible, pragmatic tactician, one reason the Heat finished third in the league last season in defensive efficiency. He places a premium on packing the paint, but also shies away from risky double-teams and preaches help-and-recover as a bedrock defensive principle. Against Orlando, that's no easy task. Boston had the luxury of Kendrick Perkins to guard Dwight Howard, which allowed the Celtics' other four defenders to devote their attention toward smothering the Magic's 3-points threats along the arc. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are long, aggressive and, most important, intuitive perimeter defenders, but the challenge of covering shooters, blanketing the paint and providing help simultaneously is a tall task
How do you minimize Howard’s impact on defense? Beat him down the court. The Heat commonly play three ball handlers on the floor at the same time, so they should be able to push the ball at every opportunity and get buckets in transition. With only one true post up player in Chris Bosh, the Heat have been abysmal trying to score from the block so far this season -- Synergy pegs them at 4-for-16 shooting in post-up situations in their two games -- and that won’t improve against a tree like Howard. Luckily for Miami, James and Wade should provide powerful antidotes to Howard since they’re two of the best foul-drawers on the planet and terrors to guard in the open court. The Magic employ a four-out offense which will limit Miami’s leak-out opportunities off of defensive rebounds so provoking turnovers will be their best bet.
The James-Wade Pick & Roll
How do you scramble a Magic defense that's consistently air-tight? Force it to make tough choices as early in a possession as possible. The Heat have half-heartedly deployed James and Wade in pick-and-roll sets over their first two games. If ever there was an opportunity to get that combination humming, this is it. For one, that kind of perimeter action engages Vince Carter and Quentin Richardson, two slower defenders who are no match for a couple of locomotives like James and Wade. Second, the more the Heat can generate opportunities that originate on the perimeter, the less they'll have to deal with Howard inside. Of course, James and Wade will still have to meet Howard at the rim -- a confrontation the rest of us can look forward to.
Joel the Road Block
After Miami’s disappointing season debut against Boston, Joe Treutlein of Hoopdata.com fame outlined why Joel Anthony is a poor fit in Miami’s offense that relies so heavily on dribble penetration to flourish. Since Anthony has made as many outside shots in the NBA as you did over the past year (that is: zero), opposing teams can turn Anthony’s defender into a traffic cone in the paint. Ilgauskas’ outside shot gives Howard an incentive to not camp out in the lane and discourage the dribble drives of Wade and James. What’s even more troubling about Anthony’s presence is that it allows Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy to switch Rashard Lewis to guard Anthony and move Dwight Howard to neutralize Bosh in the post. Unfortunately for Miami, Anthony’s limited offensive repertoire actually doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Should Spoelstra elect to start Anthony, three quick fouls to Howard would be a blessing in disguise.