By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage

MONDAY, 1/31: AT GRIZZLIES
By Josh Cohen

With Orlando about to embark on two of its more imperative games of the season (Thursday vs. Miami and Sunday at Boston), it will be essential for the Magic to close out January with a confidence-boosting performance.

They will have the opportunity to gain more buoyancy when they visit the surging Memphis Grizzlies on Monday at 8 p.m.

Fresh off a dominant – yet unsurprising – victory over the dreadful Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, the Magic expect to walk into FedEx Forum with a purpose of re-establishing road excellence. Since tying a franchise record with nine straight wins, Orlando is just 3-4 away from home, including defeats to the Celtics and Bulls.

Playing in Memphis won’t be an easy task, especially considering the Grizzlies’ recent success and their history at home against the Magic.

The Grizzlies, who started the week just a game and a half behind the Portland Trail Blazers for eighth place in the West, have won five of their last six games and seven of their last eight at home versus the Magic.

Zach Randolph, an All-Star last season and a candidate to return to the midseason classic this year, recorded 24 points and 20 rebounds against Washington on Saturday and has posted a double-double in 14 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 4.

As impressive as Randolph has been, however, his statistics don’t quite compare to Dwight Howard’s. D12 tallied his fourth 20-20 performance of this season and 30th of his career on Sunday and has averaged 25.3 points and 16.7 rebounds in his last six games.

Aside from Howard’s dominance, Ryan Anderson has been just as inspiring over the last few weeks. The 6’10 power forward collected career highs with 23 points and 16 rebounds against the Cavaliers and has buried at least one 3-pointer in every game since becoming a mainstay in Stan Van Gundy’s rotation on Dec. 23.

“If you want to put all your attention on Dwight, then you basically have to risk our 3-point shooting,” Anderson said. “So vice-versa, if you come out on us, Dwight is going to be wide open.”

Tune in to the action starting with the pregame show at 7:30 p.m. on Sun Sports.
THURSDAY, 2/3: VS. HEAT
By Josh Cohen

The last time the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat squared off, both teams were in completely different circumstances than they will be on Thursday.

For the Magic, on one hand, it was well before December’s two blockbuster trades and it was prior to the emergence of Ryan Anderson. For the Heat, on the other hand, it was well before their torrid stretch when they went 15-1 in December and it was prior to any injury bugs that have impacted Miami over the last couple of weeks.

As a result, when the Magic and Heat collide for the third time this season and last at home, it will basically be like the first matchup for the two teams to evaluate where they stand in case the Sunshine State rivals meet up in the postseason.

On Sunday in Oklahoma City, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played together for the first time since Jan. 12. During that stretch of time, James missed two games with a sprained ankle, Bosh was absent six games with the same ailment and Wade sat out a few games with migraine issues and a sprained wrist.

But assuming their collective effort was no provisional relief when all three enjoyed splendid performances in their win over the Thunder, it appears the Magic will have to contend with the Heat at full strength.

Unlike the two previous meetings – which saw Orlando and Miami split wins – the matchups at each position will be somewhat different.

In all likelihood, Jason Richardson will have the arduous task of defending Wade, while Hedo Turkoglu, who since rejoining the Magic has shown a capability to effectively guard some of the premier small forwards in the league (ex. Paul Pierce, Andre Iguodala), will be responsible for chasing James around.

In addition, Mike Miller, who had missed the first months of the season with a thumb injury, is back and will be another weapon the Magic will have to plan for.

Aside from trying to catch the Heat in the standings, if the Magic can win the final two meetings with the Heat, they will own the tiebreaker should the two Eastern Conference powers finish with identical records.

Tune into all the action at 8 p.m. on TNT.


FRIDAY, 2/4: AT WIZARDS
By Dan Savage

The Orlando Magic’s Friday date with the Washington Wizards will be filled with old faces in new places.

After spending seven and a half seasons as a member of the Wizards, Gilbert Arenas will return home for the first time since a December trade brought him to Orlando.

On the flip side, Rashard Lewis – the other piece in that blockbuster deal – will go head-to-head with a Magic squad that he helped lead to the 2009 NBA Finals.

Needless to say, there’s no shortage of storylines for this affair.

With emotions riding high, the Magic have to make sure to remain focused on the task at hand.

Although any back-to-back contest following a matchup with Miami Heat is no easy challenge, Orlando will have to remain diligent and not overlook a Washington squad that possesses the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. And in order to accomplish that goal, they’ll need to shut down an old friend.

Since heading up to D.C., Lewis has become a focal point in Washington’s offense.

Over the last six games, he’s averaging 13 attempts from the field and 15.7 points per contest.

And you safely bet that he will be motivated to prove that the championship-contending Magic made a mistake when they shipped him to the lottery-destined Wizards.

“You most definitely use that as motivation,” Lewis explained shortly after the deal. “It is definitely going to fuel me. I’m the type of guy that’s been doubted growing up from high school to the NBA. I feel like there’s always something in front of me that’s challenging me and I just look at this as another challenge.”

Coverage for this must-see contest begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS Florida.
SUNDAY, 2/6: AT CELTICS
By Dan Savage

This Sunday is no ordinary Sunday.

In fact, it’s the type of day that sports fans’ dreams are made of.

Not only do die-hard sports junkies get to watch the biggest contest that the National Football League has to offer, but they get a sensational early afternoon nationally-televised treat when the Orlando Magic battle the Boston Celtics at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

With each squad winning one game against the other during their 2010-11 campaigns, Orlando will attempt to close out its regular season series with Boston on top after dropping the last meeting by a mere three points.

But taking down the Celtics will be no easy task.

Boston currently possesses the best record in the Eastern Conference (36-11) and obtains the most stifling defense in the NBA, allowing just 91.5 points per game.

“They’re the best team in the East, so we want to play our game and zone in,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said of facing the Celtics. “The goal isn’t to measure ourselves against them; it’s to win the game.”

If the Magic want to defeat the Celtics, they’ll need Nelson to play more like he did during their Christmas Day contest rather than the nine-point five-assist effort he delivered during the Jan. 17 affair.

Nelson was heroic in that triumph, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the final 2:32 of the game to lead Orlando to victory.

The Magic will also need to improve on the defensive end, after they allowed Boston to shoot a scorching 60 percent from the field in that 109-106 road defeat earlier this month.

“We’re going to have to be better defensively then that,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy explained. “On the positive side, they had to shoot 60 percent to win a very close game.”


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