Tomorrow (Monday) night the Pistons will welcome the Orlando Magic to the Palace to play their first game of the season against the Magic. Both the Magic and the Pistons are going to be on one days rest, and the Magic are coming off of a thumping against the Cavs, and the Pistons off of a loss to the Pacers.
The Them: The Magic are a (somewhat surprisingly) pretty good team, but of all the teams (surprising and not) in the middle of the Eastern Conference thunderdome, they are the team that the jury is still out on the most for a couple of reasons. 1. The Magic are the team in that group with the least amount of recent success of the crew. (The Pistons also fit right in there, but there were a lot of very obvious signs that the Pistons would be much improved this year, although it is still hard to say exactly how good the Pistons are as well.) 2. The Magic have really struggled against good competition so far this year, and have done really well against the worse teams. (which is basically the opposite of the Pistons lol) And they still have the clearest questions with regards to their team, it is often mentioned how they have a lot of good but tricky pieces, and that is true. HOWEVA, with all that said, they have shown to be much improved, and are most likely a pretty good team. Their offense and defense both hover around competency with a OffRtg. of 101.8 and a DefRtg. of 100.8. Nikola Vucevic is still the center of the Orlando offense and is a highly skilled center who can score in the post or with jumpers. (his range does not usually extend to the 3 point line but he can shoot.) Although his defense is still generally quite poor. In a surprising turn of events, Evan Fournier (might) actually be their second best player averaging a little over 14 points per game. Tobias Harris is not scoring with the same volume as he did last year, but he is still scoring his 14 points on solid efficiency, and his defense has rather noticeably improved to the point of being generally competent. Elfrid Payton might not play in this game due to a hurt ankle but he is a killer defender who can't really shoot, or score much at all actually. But is pretty solid as a distributor. Channing Frye has rounded out the starting lineup for most of the year (although Scott Skiles said there might be a change in the lineup) as a stretch 4 who can really shoot (44% from deep this year) but has not shot a lot this year, and also does not provide much else beyond his shooting. Victor Oladipo has had to adjust to life off the bench, and has generally struggled mightily this year to score the ball doing the KCP special of shooting below 30% from 3 and below 40% overall (although he is a better ball handler than KCP) and is also a very solid defender. Andrew Nicholson is a very solid bench player who can score a few points here and there. Aaron Gordan is an absolute athletic freak but he is starting to show some real signs of coming into his powers and being a 2 way player, but he still has a long ways to go in that regard. Jason Smith is still doing his thing off of yet another bench where he is generally an acceptable player. Mario Hezonja has shot pretty well but does not get a lot of shots or playing time. Shabazz Napier plays a very little amount and continues his trend of not looking like he is any good at all. All in all there are indeed some very solid young players here, but the biggest issue is that there is not very much shooting on this team, which is why the pieces are tricky. But they have a good coach in Scott Skiles, and the Magic are playing solid defense to go along with very sharing offense. And most of all they play very very hard. Even though there are some trends that suggest they will fall towards the back of the playoff race as the season continues, they will likely not fall out of it, and figure to be in the thick of it with the Pistons all year. And as such, they will not be a easy out.
Matchups to watch:
- Andre Drummond vs. Everyone: You know the drill with this one, but even more so than regular, Andre might be in for a monster game here. Vucevic is not a good defender, and the Magic are rather devoid of good rebounders. (Vucevic is not bad, but he is not a monster on the boards by any stretch, and once again, he is not the most disciplined with his defense and by extension his defensive rebounding.) Simply put, there does not figure to be a whole lot to stop Andre. Scott Skiles is a smart enough coach that he will probably have something special cooked up to keep Andre off the boards, but once again, I do not see the Magic having the guys to make even the most brilliant scheme very effective. The only thing I see slowing down Andre is that Vuc really attacks him and manages to get Andre into some foul trouble.
- Reggie vs. Bounce back: So far this year Reggie has generally had a way of bouncing back from poor performances with big games. His last game against the Pacers was indeed bad, so look for a bounce back game. Also watch to see how his ankle looks because even though he said he just "Tweaked" it, it definitely got hurt at least a little bit. And whether Payton plays or if Oladipo gets the start, both a good defenders so he will have his work cut out for him.
- Andre vs. Vuc: Andre has struggled dealing with guys who can shoot. Vucevic can shoot the midrange jumper. It will be interesting to see if SVG just has Andre go out on Vuc right from the start or not.
- Bench mob vs. good? The bench mob has been much improved with Jennings back, and it will be interesting to see if they can keep it up. And there are a few things to watch here, mainly is Jennings and how he continues to ease back into the swing of things. Also though is the Stanley Johnson/Aron Baynes PnR which has shown some very real goodness as of late. I'd also be interested in whether or not SVG keeps having KCP stay on as the starter with the bench mob or not.
- Greater Morris vs. Poor wing defenders: Tobias Harris has improved a fair amount this year as a defender, but he is still not all that good. Neither is Channing Frye and Fornier would be way to small. As such the wing guys who figure to get shots at Marcus figure to give him an opportunity to have a really nice night.
So in conclusion.
Cackle with knowing glee if:
The Magic can literally do nothing to keep Andre off the boards.
Reggie comes out pissed and is slicing up the Magic defense.
The bench mob actually is good.
Remember what happened last time Reggie Jackson played the magic?
Run for the hills if:
Scott Skiles comes up with some scheme that manages to keep Andre out of the game.
Reggie is actually hurt and very limited.
KCP START SHOOTING BETTER PLS.
Greater Morris finally snapped and continues to unravel.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Andre goes off for a monster night and the Magic have little answer for him.
Andre plays out on Vuc and causes Vuc to have a really poor offensive game.
Greater Morris sticks it to the Magic defenders.
Reggie Jackson has a solid game but does not go off for any big numbers because other guys have it locked in.
Pistons win a fairly close game on the strength of a monster game from Andre and Greater Morris.
This will be an interesting game because the Magic are a super interesting team. They are not all that different from the Pistons, lots of young guys, a good coach, (although I don't think Skiles is as good as SVG) and are actually winning basketball games for the first time in a while.
What do you think? Think Andre will go off? Think Vuc will get the better of him? Let me know! We all get smarter!