Gameday Q&A: Spurs vs. Magic

After a disappointing loss to Miami last night, the San Antonio Spurs (9-5) have very little time to lick their wounds. They play in Orlando (10-3) tonight.

The good news is Orlando is on night three of a back-to-back-to-back. Not that it mattered when the Spurs played the Thunder in the same situation, but it’s better than the Spurs playing Orlando when the Magic has a night or two of rest.

The Magic is off to a sneaky good start and of course come armed with Dwight Howard. They’re coming off a surprisingly tough home win over the Bobcats where D-12 went off for 25 points, 17 rebounds and even led Orlando in assists with four. As we do from time to time, Project Spurs exchanged questions with the enemy in preparation for tonight’s game. Today I exchanged questions with Phillip Rossman-Reich at the Orlando Magic Daily. Obviously we discussed Dwight Howard, both on the court and the trade rumors, as well as what concerns Phillip most about playing the Spurs. My thanks to Phillip for his help.

Trevor: I find it funny that people are talking about Dwight struggling early. Do people realize he’s averaging close to 15 rebounds a game and is still top 5 in field goal percentage and blocks per game?

Phil: Yeah, it is amazing what people do to feed their own storyline. A lot of people want to read Howard’s intentions into every game he plays or use poor scoring numbers to say he is not truly among the league’s elite. It is frustrating to know Howard probably actually listens to that when everyone who watches him every night knows that just is not true.

If you watched the Magic’s game against the Warriors on TNT last Thursday, you saw Shaquille O’Neal criticize Dwight Howard for not posting enough points or dominating games offensively. His numbers don’t always look great — see Monday’s game against the Knicks where Howard took only six shots and scored eight points to go with 10 rebounds and six turnovers before fouling out — but his impact is pretty unparalleled in the league. 

Because Howard was attracting such constant attention every time he rolled to the basket, and because the Knicks had to double Howard on every post touch, it opened up Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick to let their shots fly from the perimeter. It allowed Hedo Turkoglu to get to the basket. And, kept the Magic offense chugging on a night where the team was just not doing very much of anything.

He has been a little underwhelming in a lot of areas this year — his free throw shooting especially — but nobody in Orlando is complaining too much about what Howard has given them this year to date.

Who’s the second most important player on the Magic?

The second most important player has to be either Hedo Turkoglu or Jameer Nelson. Getting one of those two players going and attacking the paint is an absolute must for the Magic to win games against upper echelon competition.  Turkoglu is starting to look like his 2009 self again and he is running the high pick and roll with Howard very effectively once again. More importantly, he has found the good balance between attacking the basket, finding others to pass to and taking the wild, uncalled for step-back fadeaways with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. As long as those go in, people don’t mind them so much. Turkoglu is where the Magic go in the fourth quarter and this year, as opposed to last year after he was traded back to Orlando and seemed content to defer, he is delivering.  Jameer Nelson is another story. The Magic need him to be a catalyst on offense and attack the basket and score. He has been doing less and less of that since his shoulder injury cut short his All-Star campaign in 2009. It is almost like he tries too hard to be a distributor (which he isn’t) rather than be a scorer. When Nelson plays well and aggressive, the Magic usually win.

Ryan Anderson reminds me of Matt Bonner, but with other skills besides shooting a three. Also, it looks like he could get a tan if he needed to. Is his early season performance a fluke or is he emerging into a legit starting four?

Ryan is an interesting player to watch. He is the first to admit that all his points come off of the work of others and he is just there to make shots. For some reason, teams have not figured out that you cannot leave him open. In that sense, Anderson is no fluke. He has done this very well for the last three years and is a Stan Van Gundy favorite weapon on offense.  The question is, as he tries to become a legitimate starting four, can he do other things? At Cal, he led the Pac-10 in rebounding and he is a very underrated rebounder. But he is not scaring anybody on the glass in the NBA. Nor is he scaring very many people defensively. Van Gundy is constantly asking for via: Orlando SentinalAnderson to measure his success not only on his offensive game but also on the defensive end. He still has a ways to go there.  Overall, Anderson is a good player. But I imagine his production dips if Dwight Howard is not there sucking in all of the defense’s attention.

More likely to happen by the trade deadline: Dwight Howard gets traded or the Magic makes a trade to land a legit number two option to go with D-12?

I honestly think that the Magic trading Dwight Howard is more likely than the Magic getting a legitimate number two option. Otis Smith screwed up big time when he traded away all his assets to acquire Jason Richardson (whom he re-signed to a four-year deal after disappointing in 55 games in Orlando last year), Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark. A team with cap room from Vince Carter’s expired deal, Rashard Lewis’ expiring contract, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus is going to be a much more appealing package to build around than whatever the Magic have now. Orlando getting a deal for that second star is going to depend upon some team believing in Jason Richardson or Hedo Turkoglu as its centerpiece. It likely will also mean the team has to throw in Ryan Anderson or J.J. Redick into the deal. Those are two guys Orlando really trusts in the offense right now.  I find it more likely that the Lakers finally cave and send Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to Orlando. Actually, I find it most likely that the Magic don’t get the deal they want and delude themselves into thinking the team can recapture some magic (excuse the pun) and make another wild journey deep into the Playoffs. At 10-3 right now, it is not completely out of the question. But, yeah, highly unlikely with this roster.

What about the Spurs should worry the Magic the most?

What worries me is the Spurs’ size inside. Ryan Anderson is not the greatest defender and the Magic have been defeated by hard-working posts who attack the offensive glass. Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter could all give the Magic problems on the glass unless Dwight Howard just has one of his monster rebounding games. I believe this game is going to be won in those trenches and if San Antonio can get a fair amount of offensive rebounds and force Orlando to defend more, San Antonio will be in good shape. This Magic defense is not what it used to be.

Click here to read my responses to Phillip’s questions at Orlando Magic Daily.

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