Friday, November 9, 2012

Game 4 Preview: Brooklyn Nets (1-2) at Orlando Magic (2-2)

Arron Afflalo was the biggest piece that the Magic got in the trade with the Lakers, 76ers, and Nuggets that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles. 
UPDATE: MarShon Brooks sprained his ankle at shootaround today and is a game-time decision for tonight. Gerald Wallace is still out and Josh Childress is finally healthy enough to play. The injury carousel keeps on turning.

When: 7:00 pm; Friday, November 9th, 2012

Where: Amway Arena; Orlando, FL

TV: YES Network

The Nets and Magic were said more in conjunction with each other last season regarding off the court business arguably more than any other pair of teams in the entire NBA. The Dwightmare situation surrounding former Magic center Dwight Howard and the on-and-off trade request that he constantly reiterated for the better part of the last two seasons. The trade talks shifted to the Nets last year and  really picked up around the trade deadline and over this past offseason. Obviously, Howard ended up going to the Lakers in a four-team deal, leaving certain enmity between the front offices of both of these teams.

It's not very easy for a team to rebuild from the loss of a franchise player like Howard, and the Magic's current roster exemplifies that statement perfectly. Orlando doesn't have any player close to resembling a star or even a most-significant player. Jameer Nelson is a suitable point guard who can score and lead an offense but is on the downside of his career and is too injury-prone. Arron Afflalo, acquired from the Nuggets in the Howard trade, is a very good scorer but doesn't play much defense and is better in a secondary role, not necessarily as the #1 option on a team. 

As Nelson and Afflalo are the best options for the Magic, and coach Jacque Vaughn (a former Net), as potential leaders, it is clear they lack any player that can be on-court directors of the Magic. The Nets had this problem in the 2009-10 season and half of the 2010-11 season, after they traded Vince Carter and before trading for Deron Williams. The Nets had no visible leader and their on-court success (rather, lack of it) was worsened by that fact, exemplified by the team's near-historically bad 12-70 record in the 2009-10 campaign. Until Orlando finds their next leader, they will most likely toil in the mediocrity that tends to follow a faceless organization.

On the other hand, the Nets--on paper--seemed to rebound fine from not getting Dwight Howard, but their record wouldn't show it. After an embarrassing 30-point road defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat, Brooklyn's record fell to 1-2 on the young season as they look to get back to even .500 with a win in Orlando tonight. Gerald Wallace is still injured and as shown by their last two games, both losses in which Wallace didn't play, the Nets desperately miss his defensive presence and everpresent hustle that greatly help in building leads and closing games out. To say the least, Gerald is much more important to the team than a lot of people give him credit for and the Nets' last two games show that to be evident more than any other aspect of the 2012-13 season so far.

If they are going to be a true contender in the Eastern Conference this year, the Nets need to take care of a weaker foe in the Magic and show that they can win--and most importantly, play defense--when Gerald Wallace isn't on the floor. Unlike the Nets' last two opponents in Minnesota (Andrei Kirilenko) and Miami (LeBron), Orlando doesn't really have a small forward that can directly take advantage of Wallace not playing defense on them. Glen Davis can score, undoubtedly, but Keith Bogans (fill-in starter) matches up well with him while he definitely did not against Kirilenko and LeBron.

The on-paper matchup advantages in the Nets favor continue into the power forward and center positions, where Orlando sports Josh McRoberts and Nikola Vucevic. McRoberts and Vucevic are big bodies who aren't terrible rebounders or defenders, but they aren't very good rebounders or defenders. The pair are more apt on the offensive end of the floor, referenced by how each of them have sub-100 defensive ratings so far this season. This bodes well for the Nets power forward-center combo of Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. If the guards give Hump and Brook the ball enough tonight against the defensively-overmatched Magic squad, then it is going to be hard for the Nets to lose. 

Against the T-Wolves and Heat, the Nets fell into the trap of taking too many jump shots, which sent them into long periods of offensive inefficiency, costing them both those games. By working inside-out on offense, perimeter shots become less contested by the defense, making those shots easier to make for some of Brooklyn's more gifted outside shooters, like Joe Johnson, C.J. Watson, and even Mirza Teletovic. That's something the Nets should focus on tonight in Orlando.

Probable Lineups 
NETS- D-Will (PG), Joe Johnson (SG), Bogans (SF), Humphries (PF), Lopez (C)
ORL- Nelson (PG), Afflalo (SG), Glen Davis (SF), McRoberts (PF), Vucevic (C)

Final Thoughts
Regarding someone that won't even play in the game, I'm really happy that Jacque Vaughn got the Magic head coaching job this offseason. Jacque played for the Nets from 2004-2006 and even though he wasn't blessed with the most talent or physical gifts, he still managed to be the smartest guy on the court most of the time. He was always someone who Byron Scott (and later, Lawrence Frank) could count on to make the right play to help his team win. I wish Jacque the best of luck, of course against all other teams than the Nets.

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