The Golden State Warriors (28-36) just completed a rather unremarkable seven game road trip in which their lone victories came against the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers. They struggled against most of their opponents on the road, but are now unfortunate enough to be playing back home. They will be hosting the Orlando Magic (41-24) tonight in a rematch of an early January game that Orlando dominated in the second half on their way to a blow out win. Let’s have a run down of what to expect from the Magic tonight.
On offense, this Orlando team averages 99.8 points per game (14th in the NBA) on 46.3% field goal shooting (12th in the NBA). For the most part, everything this Magic team does on offense revolves around Dwight Howard. He is just so physically imposing that teams are obligated to dedicate at least two defenders on him to prevent him for bullying his way around the basket. Consequently, Stan Van Gundy runs a lot of curl screens in which Howard is the one executing the off the ball pick because teams rarely ask D12’s defender to help out during out the action for fear that he might shake loose for an uncontested dunk.
As a result, the player is often open for either a jump shot or a curl directly to the basket unless the weak side defense reacts fast enough to close out the middle of the lane. In addition, teams typically allocate all of their attention to Dwight Howard, which results in double and even at times triples teams. The Magic center then does a good job of kicking the ball back out where the perimeter players find the open man for an uncontested three point attempt.
Orlando does a good job of finding its shooters and getting their points from deep. Indeed, they attempt 25.3 three point field goals per game (1st in the NBA) and connect on 36.6% of their tries (10th in the league).
Because opposing teams are so worried about the Magic’s interior play, they often have several defenders sagging in the paint to crowd Howard and take away driving lanes. This explains why this Magic team only scores 38.5 points in the paint per game (23rd in the association). Nonetheless, teams should be a bit more cognizant of whom they are playing.
Orlando is a low assist team because they tend to at times forget the game plan and start playing one on one, which usually results in low percentage shots. However, once Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick have the ball, it’s important not to get too fancy on defense because they are looking to feed Howard (especially if there is a lot of time left on the shot clock); and do a good job of it too. If the defense overplays him to prevent an entry pass while any of those three players has the ball, he will spin off his defender for the lob pass and dunk. Other players on the roster are often slow at reacting and passing the ball after a Howard spin move.
On defense, the Magic surrender 94.2 points per game (fifth in the NBA) on 43.7% field goal shooting (third in the league). Orlando gives teams fits on defense because of how well they defend the interior. Howard does an impeccable job of patrolling the paint and keeping teams away from the basket. Even when involved in pick and rolls, he does a great job of showing and then getting back to his initial help position. He’ll occasionally bump cutters and push opposing big men outside of the paint and force them to shoot from there as opposed to where they are accustomed to getting the ball.
The Magic only allow 20.2 shot attempts directly at the rim (best in the NBA) and consequently only yield 36.2 points in the paint per game (best mark in the league). Even when players drive the ball at the basket, the threat of Dwight Howard causes them to shoot a midrange jumper or instead kick the ball out for a long range attempt.
Mind you, if there is a weakness in their defense, it’s their ability to defend the rest of the court. Dwight Howard may help cover up for a lot of mistakes and mismatches, but he cannot guard the whole court. As a result, good shooting teams can take advantage of Orlando’s defense by shooting the ball from midrange.
Indeed, Orlando’s defense allows opponents to take 22.7 shots from 16 to 23 feet (fourth most in the NBA) and also 8.1 shots from 10 to 15 feet range (fifth most in the league). Those shots typically arise from running pick and rolls right at players such as Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson; because they cannot recover as fast as Howard can in these situations. And if Howard is kept occupied at the basket, then teams are able to get open looks from these areas of the court.
The Warriors will have a tough time defending Howard but throwing different defensive looks at him will be the best chance the team has at slowing him down. The Dubs should try a combination of defenses: play single coverage on him, double team him on the catch, double team on the dribble and also fake double teams at him to confuse him in order to be successful. Also, a good strategy other teams in the league use at time would be to switch the pick and rolls late in the shot clock (especially with Bass) since the power forward or center cannot possibly create any offense with the ball from 10 to 15 feet out. Afterwards, it comes down to closing out possessions by rebounding.
Orlando game notes: In the seven games since the All-Star break, Dwight Howard is averaging 24.4 points, 14.4 rebounds and 3.9 blocks on 65.6% field goal shooting. MVP consideration anyone?
Golden State game notes: In nine games since the All-Star break, Monta Ellis is averaging 21.4 points, 4.7 assists and 2.6 steals on 39.4% field goal shooting.