Magic's Week Ahead (1/24-1/30)
By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage
Once upon a time, the Orlando Magic cringed and got a little panicky when the Detroit Pistons popped up as their next opponent.
But times have changed and fortunes have swapped over the last couple of years. Since Detroit’s dominance over Orlando, which included three playoff series victories (2003, 2007, 2008), the Magic have controlled momentum in this once-heated rivalry.
Orlando will look for its sixth consecutive victory over Detroit when the two adversaries battle at Amway Center on Monday at 7 p.m. The Magic will also seek their ninth straight home victory and fourth straight triumph overall.
Orlando has already prevailed in two meetings this season against Detroit – both coming prior to last month’s two blockbuster trades. In one of those victories, the Magic managed to earn a win in spite of dealing with the stomach virus epidemic that forced a handful of their players to be absent.
Brandon Bass enjoyed one of his best performances against the Pistons on Dec. 3 when he erupted for a career-best 27 points on 11-of-12 shooting from the field.
Last week was one of the more riveting several days of the season for the Magic. Following a heartbreaking defeat in a highly competitive affair with the Celtics, Orlando won in miraculous fashion against Philadelphia and subsequently dominated its next two opponents, Toronto and Houston.
Dwight Howard recorded 53 points and 33 rebounds combined against the Raptors and Rockets and expects to be just as supreme against Detroit’s relatively thin front line.
The Pistons come off one of their more thrilling victories of the season. They edged the Phoenix Suns on Saturday in a game that was decided in the final seconds. Tayshaun Prince led Detroit with a game-high 17 points.
Tune in to Sun Sports starting with the pregame show at 6:30 p.m.
The Indiana Pacers started the season so well that they had aspirations to not only reach the playoffs but also challenge the Chicago Bulls for a Central Division title.
But over the last month or so, the Pacers have declined to a point that if the playoffs started today, they would miss it entirely.
On Wednesday, the Orlando Magic will try to make Indiana’s problems worse when the two adversaries clash at Conseco Fieldhouse at 7 p.m.
During November, the Pacers showed so much promise when they defeated some of the elite teams including the Miami Heat and L.A. Lakers. But since Dec. 1, Indiana is 7-18 and has lost its last five games.
In their first meeting this season on Nov. 20, Dwight Howard racked up 25 points and 12 rebounds and Jameer Nelson converted on a go-ahead three-point play in the final minute to propel the Magic past the Pacers.
Unlike the early portion of the season, both Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger have struggled lately. Granger, for one, recorded just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting on Saturday against Denver. Hibbert, meanwhile, has scored in double figures just four times in January and has reached double digit rebounds just twice.
Tyler Hansbrough, on the other hand, has elevated his play since being promoted to the starting lineup. Against the Nuggets, the former NCAA champion at UNC posted a career-best 27 points to go along with 10 rebounds.
Indiana also got a stellar performance from its talented rookie, Paul George. The 10th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft racked up 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in Denver.
Tune in to Sun Sports on Wednesday starting with the pregame show at 6:30 p.m.
The Orlando Magic have a dramatically different roster from the last time they faced the Chicago Bulls back on Dec. 1.
However, they’ll be hoping for a similar result when the two teams go head-to-head on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
The Magic throttled the Bulls for a 107-88 road victory earlier this season, a shocking blowout considering how tough Chicago has been within the friendly confines of the United Center.
The Bulls have only lost four times at home this season, third fewest in the NBA.
They’ve been red-hot at the home front of late, winning 10 of their last 11 in their own arena, even though they’ve had let down moments against sub-.500 clubs.
But that won’t be a problem for Chicago against an Orlando squad that possesses the sixth-best record in the league.
“When we play a great team, [lapses] haven't been a problem," said Bulls forward Loul Deng. "It's the below .500 teams that give us a problem. Teams are coming in here ready to play us. We can't allow ourselves to [let up] against teams.”
If the Magic hope for a repeat performance from their last meeting, they’ll need another big outing from Jameer Nelson.
The Magic’s starting point guard outshined All-Star candidate Derrick Rose by notching a 24-point, nine-assist performance in Orlando’s win.
“When he is playing at a high level, the rest of the team plays at a high level,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith explained. “When he doesn’t, the team doesn’t. It is as simple as that.”
In the marathon that is the NBA regular season, it’s not always just about showing up for the elite squads on the schedule.
Sometimes, it’s about making sure you defeat the teams you should beat.
That’s the item on the agenda for Orlando when it faces off with Cleveland this Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.
After losing franchise cornerstone LeBron James in free agency, it was assumed that this would be a rough season for the Cavaliers.
However, no one thought it would be this tough.
Cleveland has dropped 16 straight contests and 20 consecutive on the road, one defeat short of a franchise record.
"We have to play harder, we have to play smarter and we have to be tougher," Cavs Head Coach Byron Scott said. "That's the bottom line."
As a result of their terrible losing skid, Cleveland is now the owner of the worst record in the NBA (8-35).
"Nobody likes to lose," said guard Daniel Gibson. "I hate to lose; with a passion. And for me to sit here and say I'm comfortable or I'm OK and it's going to get better, it's enough of saying that.”
It won’t get any easier for the Cavaliers in their matchup with the Magic, who have already defeated them twice this season by a combined 26 points.
Which game are you most looking forward to?