Game Preview: Magic at Pacers

(Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Orlando Magic move on to Indiana to face the Pacers minus Jermaine O'Neil. Here is a preview of this matchup:

Orlando Magic vs. Indiana Pacers

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Records: Orlando- 30-18, 1st place in the Southeast division; Indiana- 19-28, 3rd place in the Central division. Magic on the road- 18-10; Indiana at home- 9-12

Line: Magic by 4

The Magic play their second game in as many nights as they travel to the Conseco Fieldhouse to take on the Indiana Pacers. This is the second of three meetings between the two clubs, with the first meeting going to Indiana 115-109 back in Orlando in December. The Pacers hold a 39-29 edge in the all time regular season series between the two teams. .

The Pacers like to play an up tempo, high octane type of game as evidenced by their scoring average of 103.2 ppg. (7th in the NBA). Indiana is led in scoring by the versatile Mike Dunleavy, Jr. who averages 17.8 points per game. In the middle, the Pacers are small without center Jermaine O'Neal who is sidelined by an undisclosed knee injury. Indiana currently fields a starting lineup of outside shooters in Dunleavy, forward Danny Granger, guards Kareem Rush and Jamaal Tinsley, and center Troy Murphy. Orlando's big men must stay home on everyone on the court, as any of the Pacers starting five can shoot the three. In the last meeting between these two teams, Indiana hit 11 of 20 three point shots, and forced 23 Orlando turnovers en route to a 115-109 victory. The loss to Indiana came after a 16-4 start by the Magic who have since been playing .500 ball.

The Pacers are an interesting team as they can score, rebound (7th in the NBA in scoring- 103.2 ppg./ 4th in the NBA in rebounding- 44.6), and distribute the ball well (23.3 assists- 6th in the league), but they don't do much else. On defense, Indiana allows more than 105 points per game which is currently 28th in the league, and they are dead last in the NBA with 16.3 turnovers per game. Basically, Indiana is the closest thing the Eastern Conference has to a reckless, run and shoot offense.

Best matchup for Indiana: Danny Granger vs. Rashard Lewis- Granger may be one of the best players in the NBA without major notoriety. He's a highly discounted version of the Magic's Lewis, as he can basically do the same things–shoot the three, slash, handle the ball, and post up– with a little bit of defense. Lewis has been playing better defense of late, and he must bring his A game defensively, or the very talented Granger, who incidentally earns about 10% of Lewis' salary, will overshadow him. In the last meeting, Granger scored 27 points and hit on 6 of 7 three point shots.

Best matchup for Orlando: Dwight Howard vs. Troy Murphy- Although Murphy may will keep Howard away from the basket on the defensive end, Murphy will get used and abused in the post by the Magic's big man. In the last meeting between these two teams, Howard scored 30 points and pulled down 15 rebounds despite facing double and triple teams for much of the game.

Keys to a Magic victory:

    1. Make it a half court game. The Pacers like to run and aren't nearly as effective in the half court sets. If Orlando can "ugly it up," they should be able to take advantage of the Pacers lack of size and defense in the paint.

    2. Make the three, don't give up the three. The Magic lost the last meeting between these two teams mainly because they couldn't guard the three-point line effectively. Indiana has shooters all over the court, and they are currently 11th in the league in shooting the three. On the other side of the court, Indiana is one of the worst teams in the league at defending the three and the Magic must make them pay when Dwight Howard gets double-teamed.

    3. Force turnovers, don't commit turnovers. It sounds simple, because it is. Orlando committed 23 turnovers in the last meeting between these teams and lost. The Pacers commit more turnovers than anyone else in the league, and Orlando must force them into more mistakes.

Final thoughts: This game should come down to the final few minutes, as both of these teams can score in bunches, and both teams will let their opponents back in games. Both teams will be playing on the second half of back-to-backs, so there isn't a huge advantage to the home team. If Dwight Howard can make a solid percentage of his free throws, Orlando will be able to execute down the stretch. If not, it could be a long flight home.

For our gamblers out there: Don't bet on the NBA (Tim Donaghy, remember him). But if you must, take Indiana with the points. The same effort that worked a night ago in Philadelphia will not work in Indiana.

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