By: J.M. Poluard

The Orlando Magic (21-12) will host the Golden State Warriors (13-20) tonight with the hope of making the Florida trip a disastrous one for the Dubs that lost to Miami on Saturday night. The Magic recently acquired Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark in a blockbuster trade that was aimed at improving the team (especially offensively) with the hope of getting back to the NBA Finals.

The Magic score 97.8 points per game (17th in the NBA) on 46.5% field goal shooting (ninth in the league). Orlando is an efficient shooting team from the floor because of the presence of their franchise player Dwight Howard. Indeed, Howard forces teams to pay constant attention to him given his ability to finish around the basket. Consequently, opposing defenses send help to assist the primary defender, which leads to uncontested shots for the Magic’s perimeter shooters.

Considering the fact that teams are so conscious of Howard’s talents around the basket, they pack the paint against him thus resulting in the Magic only attempting 18.9 shots at the rim (27th in the NBA). Mind you, when the Magic do get to the basket, they convert with great regularity. According to Hoopdata, Orlando converts 67.2% of their shots at the rim (fourth in the NBA) on the strength of strong finishers such as Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass (Jason Richardson applies as well but he has only appeared in seven games with the team).

Given the fact that teams are so intent on keeping Orlando out of the lane, they limit their amount of interior touches. According to Team Rankings, Orlando averages 37.8 points per game in the paint (21stin the NBA); however they fire up the second most three point shots per game at 24.3 attempts per game. Considering that they hit their shots from deep at a 36.9% (12th in the association) clip, Orlando puts opposing defenses in a bind by forcing them to pick to between getting beat from deep or from the interior.

Also, Stan Van Gundy does a great job of running misdirection plays to take advantage of defenses that try to protect against the rim. For instance, early in games, the Magic will run side pick and rolls with Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard that will result in Brandon Bass getting a few wide open jump shots at the top of the key because his man rotates to help cover Howard on the interior. But then Van Gundy will have his team run a counter where it seems as though they are running the same play but are not. Instead, Howard will fake the screen and run post up right underneath the basket as Nelson delivers the ball to Bass (at the top of the key) who then acts like he’s about to shoot (to get his man to run and contest his shot) but actually makes a jump pass to Howard who has his man pinned underneath the basket. If the play sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it run in Miami with Jason Williams, Udonis Haslem and Shaquille O’Neal when Van Gundy was their head coach.

With that said, the Magic do have areas of concern on offense. For instance, they have several instances in which they the ball ends up sticking in the hands of players trying to go one on one. This seems to happen with Nelson, Turkoglu and Richardson and results in the team averaging a mere 19.2 assists per game (27th in the NBA). Also, their perimeter players are all generally good shooters but occasionally have a knack for going to the basket and getting caught up between shooting and passing the ball after getting in the air. I get the impression that they think that if the shot is not there that they will be able to lob it up to Howard; but given the amount of people that drop into the paint to converge on him; that pass is not always there.

The team has an intriguing wildcard with Gilbert Arenas though. He seems to be somewhat reluctant to shoot for the time being; and instead prefers to set up his teammates. It is somewhat of a grand gesture on his part but the end result is that he sacrifices his offense too much and therefore seems to face an inner conflict on the proper time to get shots up; which makes him take some tough shots at times. If Arenas figures it out though? Orlando will light up the scoreboard.

On defense, the Magic surrender an impressive 93.2 points per game (fifth in the NBA) on 44.0% field goal shooting (eighth in the league). The main reason that Orlando is so good on defense is because they protect the paint better than any other team in the league. According to Team Rankings, the Magic build a fence around the paint and put up a Do Not Trespass sign as they only allow 34.7 points in the paint per game (best in the NBA). Indeed, the Disney residents do a terrific job of cutting off lanes to the basket with their perimeter players (every player is conscious of the guy with the ball and where he is headed) thus making it extremely difficult to get to the basket. The end result is that the Magic only allow 18.1 shots at the rim (best in the NBA).

In the event that Orlando’s defense breaks down and allows for someone to get to the basket though, they have one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie characters (The Eraser) waiting at the basket to clean up the mess. Indeed, Dwight Howard’s presence is enough to get players to change their shots at the basket even when he does not fully commit to contesting the shot. As a result, teams only shoot 59.8% at the rim against the Magic (seventh best in the NBA).

Given the fact that the Magic have such a dominant defensive anchor on the floor protecting the basket, they rarely double team players. Hence, they are able to stay at home, challenge shooters and force opposing players to put the ball on the floor and take low percentage shots. Indeed, Orlando allows teams to shoot 17.3 three point field goals per game (13th in the league) and to convert them 35.5% of the time (11th best in the association).

Also, it is fairly tough to run a pick and roll involving Dwight Howard against the Magic because Howard does a terrific job of helping and then recovering back to his own man  (with the help of his teammates obviously) without allowing the ball handler to gain an advantage for the most part. However, when teams involve Brandon Bass in the screen and roll action, that’s when they get better results. At times it seems as though Bass is unsure of his assignment (hedge, trap or help and recover) and thus gets his teammates into bad defensive positions.

It explains why teams like to use the player he’s guarding to set screens and then directly involve him into pick and roll situations. The split second of indecision on Bass’ behalf leads to either his man rolling to the basket unimpeded or a perimeter player getting a wide open shot.

The Warriors ability to get offensive rebounds will be tested against a good Magic team that only allows 9.1 offensive rebounds per game (best in the league) because of their willingness to collectively attack the boards. Mind you, if Golden State can create some turnovers and get out in transition, they should have some opportunities to score before Orlando can set up its defense. Also, expect the Dubs to put Curry as well as Ellis into a few pick and roll situations to take advantage of Bass’ lapses on defense (Bass might not play but the Dubs will probably still involve the Magic’s starting power forward in the screen roll action). It could prove to be beneficial to them getting to the rim and getting fouled.

Orlando game notes: Jason Williams is listed as day to day with arthritis in both of his feet while Quentin Richardson (illness) practiced on Sunday. It would seem that Brandon Bass will be out tonight with irritation in his left knee.

Golden State game notes: Andris Biedrins (ankle) missed the game Saturday at Miami and is listed as day to day.