1) The first time these two teams met, the Orlando Magic ruined Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd's debut in a 107-86 shellacking in Orlando. Now the Nets look to avenge another blowout loss as they did versus the New York Knicks yesterday at Madison Sqaure Garden, 103-80. There is definite momentum for the Nets as they've gone 7-1 in 2014 and mood is high and happy in Brooklyn. The Magic on the other hand just won a game after suffering through a 10-game losing streak. What have been the main factors in the Magic's recent collection of Ls?
There have been quite a few things that have attributed to the team's recent struggles. I think that the biggest one is not having center Nikola Vucevic for basically the entire losing streak. First, he turned his ankle in the New Year's Eve loss to the Golden State Warriors, then during his return against the Los Angeles Clippers, he took a hard fall and suffered a concussion. He’s the team's anchor on both ends of the floor and his absence has been a clear factor as to why the team has struggled.
Another big thing would be their struggles both offensively and defensively. Some of it is not having Vucevic, but they’ve had games where they’ve started slow, or gone through lulls on the offensive end that have seemingly taken them out of games. The ball has had a tendency to stick on one side of the floor for stretches with very limited off-ball movement from anyone. As for their defense, they’re just missing assignments and teams are finding holes to get driving lanes and easy shot attempts. Their win against the Celtics wasn’t pretty, but it was good for the team to finally grind out a close win after a few heartbreaking losses.
2) Arron Afflalo has been having a great season - 20.9 points on 46.7 percent shooting from the floor and 84.7 percent from the charity stripe, 4.6 boards, 3.9 dimes and 2.1 triples made. So, I'll be a conformist of sorts and ask you the same two questions that have been associated with Afflalo thus far - is he an NBA All-Star and will the Magic trade him for more assets?
I think Afflalo should be an All-Star, yes. The guard position is somewhat weak in the East, and Afflalo gives them some versatility with his ability to play small forward as well. He’s been the team's best player, and one of the most important to their success this season. There’s a handful of guys that could be fighting for the final spot, and I would expect Afflalo to be one of those, even if he isn’t selected.
As for trading him... I think you only do it by the deadline if you’re blown away by an offer. He’s on a reasonable contract, due $7.5 million the next two seasons according to ShamSports Salary database, and his production could continue to grow. He’s grown into the "go to" scorer role this season, much of which he’s attributed to hard work over the offseason. The said, he could be a better fit as a second or third option on a contending team, like he was with the Denver Nuggets, where he thrived. In the end, I think he sticks around for the rest of the season and general manager Rob Hennigan looks to move him on draft night, if at all.
3) Victor Oladipo is having his best month of his rookie season in January (10 games), posting season-bests in points (15.2), field goal percentage (43.3%), free throw percentage (80.0%), assists (4.1) and most importantly, minutes per game (36.0). It's fairly safe to say that he's the real deal. What would the best case scenario for him to further succeed the rest of the season and what do you think his ceiling is? Would the departure of both Afflalo and the long-rumored to be banished from the Magic Kingdom, Jameer Nelson, help or hurt Oladipo's development?
Best case for him the rest of the season? He can continue to start and grow on both ends, and improve his efficiency offensively, while still giving people headaches defensively. However, I think he’ll be fine if he’s coming off the bench, or starting, because either way he’ll be getting starter minutes.
As for his ceiling, I think he could be a shorter version of Andre Iguodala. There have been a lot of comparisons to Russell Westbrook, but I see more Iguodala in him. He’s got play-making ability, but is better suited as a secondary ball handler. Also, he can get to the rim and score thanks to his speed and athleticism, while locking people down defensively, like Iguodala has done throughout his career.
I think moving both Afflalo and Nelson could help and hurt his development. It would open up more playing time, but it would also take two veteran presences away from him. I think he can learn a lot from both of them down the line this season, while learning by just going out there and playing. I think the team is more likely to move Nelson, but it’s going to be a challenge for them to find someone to take him on while giving them value in return.
4) Currently, the Magic hold the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft if the season ended now and the NBA Draft Lottery played out without any surprises. Who would you want on the team next season to team up with Oladipo.
This draft has the potential to be so deep and talented that I feel like you can’t go wrong with anyone in the top five. That said, assuming everyone comes out, I would hope the Bucks let Andrew Wiggins fall past them. If Oladipo can prove he’s capable of running the team in the half-court, then pairing someone who can be a knock down shooter with him would be a huge get, and Wiggins' upside is through the roof. If Wiggins is gone? I would consider Joel Embiid if he comes out, or possibly Dante Exum, who’s somewhat of an unknown to many. Exum has said the Magic are one of his "dream teams" and him and Oladipo reportedly have a growing friendship, so it would make sense. The nice thing for the Magic is they have another potential lottery pick in their back pocket, which will give them some flexibility come draft night.
5) What are three to five other things that Nets fans should know about the Magic and give us a final score to the game!
First off, Nik Vucevic will be out once again with a concussion, so Glen Davis will be starting at center yet again most likely. That also means the Magic will be going with a three-guard lineup with Afflalo at small forward. It could give the Nets some nice match-up advantages with Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. That said, Afflalo has been really efficient scoring in multiple ways. They like to go to him on the block, usually with a smaller defender on him. He had some success with Jeff Green on him Sunday night, but if you can body him and get him off his spot it could cause him to force some things. He’s also good coming off screens, but has a tendency to shoot the dreaded foot on the line three, and is good with drawing contact both shooting and driving to the bucket.
Tobias Harris has been playing well of late, scoring nearly 15 points, while grabbing eight rebounds over his last ten games. He’s still playing with some soreness in the ankle that caused him to miss much of the preseason and first month and a half of the regular season, but he’s rounding into shape slowly. He’s a physical presence, and a match-up nightmare for many traditional power forwards who have to guard him. He’s still finding consistency in his scoring, but his slow return to form is important for the Magic.
A final thing to watch is the potential for the Magic to go with a short rotation. It worked for them on Sunday night, as coach Jacque Vaughn played only seven guys. He said it was something he’d been considering going into the game and finally put it in place. It’ll be interesting to see if he does that once again and if it can continue to be successful down the line.
I think this could be one of those "trap" games for the Nets, who are playing exceptionally well this month. They’re on the second night of a back-to-back, and just played in London, so there could be the possibility of tired legs. That said, I think they’re able to pull out a win tonight and get revenge on the Magic. Final score: 104-88.
DV's Prediction: Orlando Magic 81, Brooklyn Nets: 96. The dish is served cold. What do you think the final score will be?