Los Angeles Lakers vs. Orlando Magic: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Los Angeles Lakers vs. Orlando Magic: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since his controversial trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard will visit his former team—the Orlando Magic.

Entering what is certain to be a heated battle, Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have led the Lakers on a three-game winning streak. Since Jan. 23, the Lakers are 16-6 and have moved into eighth place in the Western Conference.

Overall, they're currently 33-31 and are 11-20 on the road.

As for the Magic, they're 18-46 overall and 10-24 at home. Nikola Vucevic, Howard's replacement at center, has been a major reason for their success with an average of 11.4 rebounds per contest.

We'll get to that in a matter of moments.

Truth be told, records will be tossed out of the window for this one. Tensions will be high, emotions will overpower talent and both teams will be desperate for a W.

So how will D-12's return to Orlando transpire?

 

Time: Tuesday, Mar. 12, at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: TWC SportsNet & FSN Florida

Records: Los Angeles Lakers (33-31, 11-20 road) at Orlando Magic (18-46, 10-24 home)

Betting Line: Lakers (-8)

 

Los Angeles Lakers Injury Report

Pau Gasol, Torn Plantar Fascia, Out

Jordan Hill, Hip Surgery, Out

 

Orlando Magic Injury Report

Glen Davis, Fractured Fifth Metatarsal, Out

Hedo Turkoglu, Suspension, Out

 

Key Storyline: Dwight Howard's Return to Orlando

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

What else could it be?

From 2004 to 2012, Dwight Howard was the face of the Orlando Magic. He led the team to five postseason appearances, a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals and won three Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Orlando won 21 games the season prior to Howard's arrival.

Unfortunately, Magic fans don't remember Howard for the contributions he made to the organization. They've blocked out how dominant a force he was in Orlando, forgetting how far he led their beloved franchise.

Instead, they remember his consistent trade demands and eventual ugly departure.

For this reason, one can't help but wonder what type of reception Howard will receive. His contributions suggest his number should be retired, but Howard's reputation has him labeled as a villain.

No story will be as intriguing as this.

 

Key Matchup: Dwight Howard vs. Nikola Vucevic

Harry How/Getty Images

When the Orlando Magic traded Dwight Howard, many questioned what it is they received in return for the star center. Little did we know, the Magic acquired one of the most dominant rebounding forces in the NBA.

Replacement center Nikola Vucevic.

Vucevic is far from the defender Howard that has proven to be. With that being said, he's averaging 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 offensive boards per game in 32.6 minutes of action.

On Dec. 2, Vucevic put those abilities on full display as he torched the Lakers for 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks en route to a 113-103 Magic win.

If Howard takes him lightly, Vucevic will strike again. The 7'0" center from Switzerland could take this game over offensively and supply Orlando with multiple second chance scoring opportunities.

In that same breath, Vucevic will have his hands full with D-12. Howard finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds when these two teams met in Los Angeles. At the time, Howard had yet to approach full strength and struggled with foul trouble.

Vucevic is about to learn why D-12 is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and a seven-time All-Star. The question is, is Howard ready for what Vucevic will bring to the table?

This is the matchup to watch—with or without a storyline.

 

X-Factor: Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

USA TODAY Sports

In 13 regular season games, Kobe Bryant is averaging 24.8 points on 38.3 percent shooting from the field when matched up with Arron Afflalo. In seven postseason games, Kobe is averaging 29.1 points on 44.8 percent shooting against Afflalo.

With every game a must-win for the Lakers, Afflalo must match The Black Mamba if he remains in his postseason mindset.

This isn't impossible for Afflalo, as his defensive pressure is relentless and offensive game is rapidly developing. In their most recent battle, Bryant scored 34 points on 12-of-27 shooting and Afflalo scored 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting.

Could we be in store for another instant classic?

If Orlando plans on winning, Afflalo must be able to contain Bryant defensively. If he can score in a similar capacity to the previous game, the Magic's chances will increase significantly.

That may be a tough task to live up to, but legacy cannot overpower the value of winning a positional matchup.

 

Prediction

As previously acknowledged, records can be thrown out of the window when the Lakers travel to play the Magic. The crowd will be as hot as ever and the Magic's players will be looking to exact revenge on Howard.

Who will win?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Howard's recent war of words with his former teammates will certainly spark an elevated effort, if his departure has not.

For that reason, we'd be naive to believe that this will be anything less than a close contest. Both squads will be desperate for a win, as the Lakers pursue a postseason berth and Orlando looks to exact revenge.

Having lost to Orlando already in 2012-13, however, expect the Lakers to right their wrongs.

Kobe Bryant will continue his efficient scoring tear, while Howard will remind Orlando fans of why they used to love him. Unfortunately, D-12's contributions will be coming against the Magic in Orlando.

Steve Nash's three-point shooting will elevate L.A. to a gritty win late in this one.

Los Angeles Lakers 97, Orlando Magic 91

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