The Orlando Magic visit the Air Canada Centre for their first of three games this season against the Toronto Raptors. There hasn’t been much magic in central Florida in recent years, as Orlando’s rebuild finds them about where the Raps were two seasons ago – playing the kids, and taking their lumps.
One of their best young players, centre Nikola Vucevic, is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. That pushes Glen (Big Baby) Davis into a starting role, which he’s neither big enough, nor talented enough, to handle successfully. Tobias Harris will match up with Amir Johnson, and give our man some difficulty. Why Milwaukee gave up on Harris so quickly is beyond me. Hasty, misguided decisions like that help explain why the Bucks are rolling along at a crisp 8-36 mark. Jameer Nelson is the Magic’s veteran point guard. He’s carved out an solid career, and can still make 3-pointers. Kyle Lowry should own him on both sides of the ball. Swingman Aaron Aflalo, Orlando’s leading scorer, is garnering All-Star buzz. Aflalo is one of those players who would excel in a top team’s rotation as a sweet-shooting sixth man, but is miscast as a first option. To me, he doesn’t get into the paint enough, nor can he do the other grunt work, like crash the boards or pass effectively. Top rookie Victor Oladipo has earned a starter’s job at shooting guard. Orlando’s bench has little to offer beyond big Canadian Andrew Nicholson, still learning the ropes in his second season.
The Raptors need to stay in the moment, and will win this game with relative ease provided they:
- get the ball inside relentlessly. Without Vucevic, the Magic interior defense should be vulnerable. Jonas Valanciunas is coming off a 20-point & 13-rebound night against Brooklyn’s much tougher big men. Watch for Amir and others rolling into the paint. Defensively, the Raps should be able to have a block party against the smaller Magic men.
- keep the opponents off balance. A young team like Orlando can get confused when they have to cope with a variety of lineups. Go small, with Patrick Patterson, double point guards, and two swingmen. Bring out the bigs, and play zone D for a few minutes. Give Steve Novak a mulligan for his poor night in Brooklyn, and see if Orlando can deal with a “stretch-4″. Don’t let them get comfortable.
- pressure the ball. This team is turnover-prone. Get after them in the backcourt.
The Raps proved to themselves that they can win without DeMar DeRozan. Let’s hope DD’s gimpy ankle allows him to log at least some minutes. The best result would be for DD to sit down most of the second half and cheer as his teammates cruise to a 103-88 triumph.