Oh boy. There are a lot of questions going into tonights game vs. the Orlando Magic. Will the snow and ice keep fans at home? Have Coach Hill and the bench REALLY buried the hatchet? Will Damien, Nick and Earl have a good game all at the same time? Will yesterday's practice really help Rashard out of the double team? Does anyone care that the ownership has selected an architect when the team is playing just below the level needed to compete? Will the Sonics give the fans something to cheer about in Key Arena tonight? Will they seek revenge for a loss at the buzzer to Lady Luck and Hedo Turkoglu?
Orlando is good this year. They are REALLY good. They have an offensive rating of 106.7 points per 100 possessions which is down a little from last year (we will look at where they are really better in a moment) but they are still putting points on the board. They are 18th in the league in points per game at 96.8. They have developed a balanced inside/outside game off the strengths of former #1 overall pick Dwight Howard and #20 pick Jameer Nelson. This has been complimented by the return of a health Grant Hill and solid play from their role players.
Dwight Howard is a monster inside and is averaging a solid double/double with 16.7 points and 13.7 rebounds. He was very active in Utah game, and their bigs were unable to control him around the basket. Given that Utah has managed to maintain the paint fairly effectively throughout this season, it is evident that Howard is a force to be reckoned with down low. The Sonics are not likely to stop Howard tonight from scoring. They CAN impact his rebounding. They must keep him off the boards at both ends by boxing out and putting a body on the man.
Jameer Nelson is also playing well, averaging 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He also had a nice game against Utah, and was able to keep Orlando's offense moving despite Utah's typical ability to limit you to midrange shots by covering the perimeter and the interior. He missed all of his threes in that game but went to the basket and managed 7 rebounds to go with his 15 points. He averages just below 15 points per game against the Sonics. The Sonics need to limit his penetration and force him to shoot the contested 3. He doesn't take a lot of three point shots, and he only hits 36% of them.
Grant Hill is back in action, though he is not the player he was in Detroit, that is more likely a symptom of age and lack of playing time than it is a sign of injury impairment. Hill has more heart than most of the Sonics lineup added together. The man kept on fighting and trying long after most men would have taken their paycheck and retired. His love for the game and "need" to play are clear in his time on the floor. He is averaging 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, and with Orlando appearing to sit him on the second of back to backs, he may be able to keep that up all season.
Carlos Arroyo is coming off the bench and providing a solid floor game. He is providing 10.6 points and 2.9 assists in about 19 minutes per game. He is shooting 48% from the field and 47% from 3, though he also refrains from firing beyond the arc.
The role players are led by Keyon Dooling, Keith Bogans, Darko Milicic and Hedo Turkoglu. Hedo shoots, Darko, Dooling and Bogans defend, but still put up some points as well.
What can I say here that hasn't already been said. Execute on offense. Free Rashard Lewis. The bench must score. Rebound, rebound, rebound.
Dwight Howard leads the league in rebounds. Find a way to stop the man from getting that ball. Wilcox has seemed very aggressive around the basket, but he NEVER goes after a loose ball or long rebound even if he might be able to get to it. Take that powerful aggression near the basket and take it to EVERY loose ball. The Sonics are just not good enough to control the game if they don't control the boards.
Orlando is second in the league as far as opponent FG%, holding opponents to 42.6%. The Sonics cannot trust the jumper. They must take the ball to the basket and get to the free throw line if they want to win. They will not get easy outside shots unless they score from the interior and encourage the guards to leak toward the paint to help. Also, rebounding becomes critical, because they will need uncontested layups and dunks off the break and interior offensive put backs to keep the scoring up.
Orlando is a better team because they shaved almost 5 points per game off their defensive rating this year, holding teams to 102.1 points per 100 possessions. They are fourth in the league in point differential with +4.13 points more than their opponents and 3rd in efficiency differential. While defense is always important, tonight the Sonics offense MUST execute on offense for them to win. I just don't see them out defending Orlando.