When the Sixers beat the Magic 74-69 a couple of weeks ago, the Magic were in the midst of a dreadful four-game losing streak. Since that game, Orlando has won six of eight games, and their two losses came in overtime. It's probably going to be a very different team the Sixers will face in Orlando tonight.
Personally, I think the Magic are much closer to the squad that dropped those four games than the group that beat Miami a week ago, but they could absolutely continue playing over their heads tonight if the Sixers don't execute their game plan.
I took a look at the stats to see what Orlando has done better in this eight-game stretch and it's really pretty simple. They've decided they need to shoot an unbelievable number of threes. Over the past eight, they're averaging 30 three-point attempts/game. 38% of all their shots have come from beyond the arc, and they're hitting on 38.9% of those attempts. It's tough to overcome 33+ points from the three-point line, and if the Sixers can't keep track of Orlando's shooters tonight, they probably won't be able to overcome it either.
The Magic have four big threats from the outside, and they will put three of them on the floor at a time to feed off the extra attention Dwight Howard draws on the inside. Ryan Anderson, JJ Redick, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu. Each of those guys can and will beat you.
The last time they met, the Sixers gave Howard a bunch of different looks, but the difference in the game was Elton Brand's ability to handle Dwight one-on-one, especially in the second half. Brand only played 18 minutes against the Bobcats on Monday, hopefully he'll have his legs under him because they're going to need him in a big way.
The Sixers have been excellent about sticking with shooters on the outside so far this season, and the Magic are actually a better matchup than some teams for this defense. Jameer Nelson's inability to run the pick-and-roll, and really his inability to set Howard up in any meaningful way takes away a big weapon for setting those guys up. When the Magic get Howard in the pick-and-roll, it's more likely to be Hedo Turkoglu handling the ball, and Iguodala can shut Hedo down.
For years, Orlando has been known for its defense. That's not the case this season. They're 12th in the league in defensive efficiency and they've got poor defenders up and down their rotation. The Sixers need to attack mismatches. Jrue needs to continue his aggressive play and the guards need to look to put fouls on Howard (because the bigs won't do it).
If anything stuck with you from the teams' prior meeting, it was probably Ryan Anderson's assault on the offensive glass. Anderson presents a unique challenge, because he isn't a PF who's plays around the hoop. He's a guy who lives on the perimeter and crashes the boards from out there. It's going to take a concerted effort from whoever's checking him to keep track of him and put a body on him when the shot goes up.
Lavoy Allen will probably get the start alongside Brand. It'll be interesting to see which of them draws the short straw and has to chase Anderson on the perimeter, neither one is particularly well-suited to it. If they start Lavoy on Howard, expect to see him pick up a couple of quick fouls, which may be a blessing in disguise if Collins goes to Thad early. Thad will have a huge advantage no matter which PF is covering him, and he's also the only PF with the ability to cover Anderson out to the three-point line. Of course, he's also the most likely big to lose track of Anderson when the shot goes up and give up an offensive board.
It's an interesting matchup and it should be a much more competitive game than their last matchup. In the end, it's probably going to boil down to three ball, as it always has with the Magic in the Van Gundy era. Let's just hope they die by it tonight.
The tip is at 7pm. Game thread will land around 5.