For a team who made it one step away from the promised land, the Orlando Magic made a boatload of changes over the summer. You don't usually see this kind of turnover after a surprisingly successful run, but Orlando was bold. After the jump we'll take a look at the matchups and try to figure out if this Magic team will look anything like the team that ended the Sixers season last April.
Rashard Lewis's suspension changes things. His absence alone changes things in a major way, but when you look at the offsesaon moves Orlando made in conjunction with Rashard's PED suspension, the Magic seem less daunting. Consider this:
Not in Orlando's lineup tonight:
- Lewis - 2.8 3P / 7.0 3PA per game (39.7%)
- Courtney Lee - 1.1 3P / 2.6 3PA per game (40.4%)
- Hedo Turkoglu - 1.7 3P / 4.9 3PA per game (35.6%)
- Rafer Alston - 1.5 3P / 4.3 3PA per game (33.8%)
New in their lineup
- Vince Carter - 1.9 3P / 4.9 3PA per game (38.5%)
- Brandon Bass - 0 3P/ 6 3PA for the entire season (0%)
- Ryan Anderson - 1.0 3P / 2.9 3PA per game (36.5%)
- Matt Barnes - 1.5 3P / 4.4 3PA per game (34.3%)
Their three-point firepower and efficiency has taken a major hit heading into this game, and that absolutely changes things. It looks like Ryan Anderson will replace Lewis at the four, so they do still have a power forward who can stretch the floor, but not nearly to the extent Lewis does. Pietrus replaces Hedo at the three, a better defender, coming off a strong postseason, but not nearly the offensive threat. Vince Carter is the biggest addition, replacing Courtney Lee at the two, he's going to have to take over the playmaking responsibilities. The return of Jameer Nelson is huge, if he can pick up where he left off before his shoulder injury last season.
This Magic team is certainly different, and contrary to popular belief, I think they're slightly weaker this season, even when at full strength. Without Rashard, they're downright vulnerable. Of their starters, they don't have a pure, knockdown shooter from three. Last season, they had two in Lee and Lewis. Rashard and Hedo both created odd mismatches at their positions (except when Iguodala was locking Hedo down). This lineup doesn't present any size mismatches for the Sixers, not one.
Typically against Orlando, my philosophy has been to leave Dalembert on an island with Dwight Howard, and stick to the shooters like glue. Once Reddick gets in the game, that strategy holds, but against the starters, I think I'd aggressively double Howard with Thad. Make Pietrus beat you and use your quickness on the perimeter to force Howard into a ton of turnovers (which he's prone to).
I'm slightly concerned with Brand being sucked out of the paint to put a hand in Anderson's face, I'll feel much more comfortable when Bass is in the game. On the opposite end of the floor, Brand should be able to manhandle Anderson in the post. I think it's possible we could see Howard checking Brand if EB gets off to a hot start. If that does happen, Dalembert needs to dominate the offensive glass, Anderson can't keep him off the boards.
I predicted a loss in this game earlier, and I suppose I have to stick with that prediction, but I will say this. The Sixers should not be outclassed and a big game from Brand, Iguodala or Thad could be enough to push the Sixers over the top. I expect to see new wrinkles in the PO that we never saw in the preseason. I expect Iguodala to stuff the box score and lead the team. I expect Kapono to shake free for a couple of open threes. Overall, I'm expecting the Sixers to compete defensively, even if their offense looks out of sorts from time to time.
I think the coaches realize it, but I'm not sure the players are there yet. Defense is this team's strength. No matter what's happening on the other end of the floor, they have the personnel to shut anyone down. If they lean on that, they can hang with any team in the league. Let's hope they get it tonight and get this season started off with an unexpected win.
Use this post as your game thread. Enjoy and I'll join you in the comments if my World Series tickets fall through.