Orlando Magic: Predicting How Dwight Howard and Co. Will Fare in January
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The next two months will arguably be the two biggest months in franchise history. If the Orlando Magic can somehow show Dwight Howard that this team is a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference, perhaps he will seriously consider staying in Orlando. If the Magic can pull together long strings of victories, sprinkled with victories over contending teams, hopefully Dwight will consider staying.
In the meantime, lets take a glance at the Magic's opponents for the next month, a week at a time.
January Week 1: Three-Game Homestead
2010 MVP Derrick Rose comes to O-town in an Eastern Conference showdown Friday night on ESPN
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The Orlando Magic open the new year hosting the Toronto Raptors (1-1). Both the Magic and Raptors currently rank in the bottom half of the league in scoring, putting up averages of 95.5 points and 94.5 points respectively. However, the Magic holds its opponents to shooting 36.6 percent from the field. With Howard traditionally playing well against the Raptors, I would say this is a win.
Next up on Jan. 2, the Magic will make its only trip away from home for the week in a visit to Mo' town, as they will take on the Detroit Pistons (0-2). With Detroit still trying to find its team identity, and only averaging 84 points per game, the Magic should be able to boogie on out with a W.
The Magic will travel back home to play against division foe, Washington Wizards. While John Wall is a great talent, the overall team talent is not up to his level. The Wizards are only scoring 83.5 points per game and shooting 40 percent from the field. The Magic should be able to handle the Wizards.
As they say, save the best for last. Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls roll into O-town to battle the Magic. If the Magic can display some kind of dominance, this is one of those games that can maybe show Howard that if he wants a contender, all he has to do is stay in Orlando. The key to this game will be ball movement. If Howard can find the open man against an aggressive defense, and the Magic make the extra pass, they can finish the week off strong with a solid win.
WEEK 1 FORECAST: 4-0
January Week 2:Three-Game West Coast Trip
Young talent, Tyreke Evans, will host Dwight and the Magic Jan 8
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The second week of January will involve a three-game west coast road trip. No matter what sport, baseball, football, or basketball, making a road trip for six consecutive days, it will affect a team.
Athletes want routine and familiarity. That being said, I believe the Magic can possibly drop two of the three games in this west coast swing without some mental toughness.
First up, the Sacramento Kings (1-2) and young star Tyreke Evans. The Kings hold the edge in the all-time meetings between the teams, having a 23-22 record over the Magic. Orlando will have to contain guard Marcus Thorton, averaging 20.3 points per game. Thorton is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.
If the Magic can play sound, fundamental basketball, they will pocket another win, continuing the winning streak to five.
The second game of the road trip is at the Portland Trailblazers (3-0). Portland will pose match-up issues for the Magic. LaMarcus Alridge is continuing his All-Star play from last season, averaging 20.7 points and 6.7 boards per game. Marcus Camby anchors the defense and cleans the glass, averaging 11.3 rebounds per game.
The real match-up issue will be at the small forward with Hedo Turkoglu against Gerald Wallace. Wallace is athletic and active, which are the two characteristics Turkoglu has problems with defensively. We should expect to see more Quentin Richardson in this game to give a defensive boost. However, I do think that the Trailblazers will be a little too much for the Magic.
The anchor game of the west coast trip is against the Golden State Warriors (2-1). Guard Monta Ellis is a scoring machine, averaging 21 points. Ellis can drop 50 on any given night with his ability to score. Forward David Lee is a double-double factory. He will most likely get his double-double but will not be a significant factor in the game.
If young phenom Stephen Curry is completely healed from his ankle injury, the Warriors will most likely want to push the ball, not allowing Howard to get established in the paint. This game can go either way. Due to the travel, the Magic may drop this game, as well.
WEEK 2 FORECAST: 1-2 (TOTAL:5-2)
January Week 3: Tough Stretch
The Magic will see both Anthony and Bryant in a tough four game stretch. which includes the Spurs
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The middle week of January will truly test the Orlando Magic, as it is a gauntlet of a week. The first test is against Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks (1-2) at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 16. If Hedo thought he had it tough with Wallace, he goes up against one of the premier scorers in the league in Anthony.
Amare Stoudemire will give fits to Anderson and Big Baby playing the 4. Newly acquired Tyson Chandler will certainly challenge Howard all night long. If Howard can get Chandler into foul trouble, the Knicks have zero depth behind him. Overall, I give the edge to the Magic and their dedication to defense.
The Magic return home for the next three games. On Jan. 17, the Charlotte Bobcats (1-1) will visit Orlando. The Bobcats are a young, scrappy team that can show up on some nights and surprise. The question is what team will roll into Orlando. The consistent defensive of the Magic will bottle up the Bobcats, but I see this game being a gritty one. I can see the Bobcats pulling an upset here, as the Magic may be looking ahead to the Spurs and Lakers.
On Jan. 18, the Magic will face a huge test in playing against the San Antonio Spurs (2-1). The Spurs have a plethora of go-to-guys that can hang 30 points. Between Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan offense is not a shortage for the Spurs.
They also play tremendous defense and rank seventh in points allowed. The wear and tear of this being the last game of three consecutive games, the Magic will lose this game, and recharge for the Lakers on Jan. 20.
The 2009 Finals rematch will be more than just a rematch. The Lakers is considered a destination for Howard. This game will be swirling with trade speculation. Kobe Bryant and associates will cause too many headaches for the Magic, both offensively and defensively.
Unless the Magic can get Gasol and/or Bynum into foul trouble, it will be a long night. The Magic's bench also needs to take over, as the Lakers are thin. With the Magic avoiding a three-game slide, they will pull out a W.
WEEK 3 FORECAST: 2-2 (TOTAL: 7-4)
January Week 4: Double Dose of Boston Celtics
The Magic will face-off against the Celtics twice in three games
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The Magic will first face-off against the Boston Celtics (0-3) on Jan. 23 at TD Bank Garden. Do not let the record fool you. This is a storied rivalry, with many playoff games played between these teams in the last four years.
The question will be if Jason Richardson can keep his high level of play up. Also, will the depleted bigs of the Celtics be able to handle Dwight Howard? Kendrick Perkins has since been shipped to Oklahoma City and Big Baby is now in Orlando. The Magic's youth and depth should be able to overtake the Celtics. This is a toss-up, though.
Next for the Magic will be at the Indiana Pacers (2-0). Indiana is a young team that is still developing. The acquisition of forward David West will help the offense. Danny Granger will certainly be an issue for the Magic. He is a pure scorer who can play both the 3 and 4 and has range.
The Pacers typically play the Magic well but fall short. The trend will continue here and Howard will dominate.
On Jan. 26, the Celtics come into the Ozone for its second meeting of the week. The Celtics will want to avenge its home loss by giving Orlando its own home loss. The Celtics will find a way to pull this out, with the veteran leadership of the Big Three.
The week closes with a game at New Orleans (2-0). While guard Jarrett Jack, forward Carl Landry and the Hornets are having a good start to the season, the Magic will pose too much down low, with Howard. Orlando should also be able to control the boards and minimize the Hornets attempts, while extending their own.
WEEK 4 FORECAST: 3-1 (TOTAL:10-5)
January Week 5: Monthly Close-out
The Magic will close out January in Philadelphia against the 76ers on Jan. 30
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Orlando will close out January with a game at home against the Indiana Pacers on Jan 29, followed by a road game to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers (1-1). The Magic will be able to take another game against the Pacers and will win a hard fought game against the Pacers. The Magic's bench should serve superior to both teams and the defense will hold off any offensive droughts.
The Magic need to try to get into sync as soon as possible, in order to create a compelling case for Howard to remain in Orlando. The fact that the team is still in tact from last year will certainly help. Hopefully, it will be enough to show Howard that the Magic are for real.
MONTHLY FORECAST: 12-5