By: Blake Hamilton
As the Orlando Magic head to Houston to square off against the Rockets one can't help but wonder what the physical state of the home team will be. Coming off a mogul's tour of Asia which had the team making numerous public appearances in addition to facing top tier talent in the Indiana Pacers, the team might still be feeling the effects of their globetrotting schedule.
The Rockets of course will not only be battling the time change but also the Orlando Magic. The Magic are a young team still looking for a W this preseason. The early contributions of their prized rookie, Victor Oladipo, who has been coming off the bench so far this preseason, has to have them excited for their future. Though Oladipo got almost all his minutes at shooting guard in college while at Indiana, the Magic and coach Jaques Vaughn have been playing him quite a bit at the point so far. The young guard still has a lot to learn about playing point in the big boy league and his ball handling skills could be a weakness early on, but there is no denying his defensive prowess and play making ability will be key for the Magic going forward.
Two other young contributors to the team include Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. Vucevic is a third year center who was drafted by the 76ers and was one of the pieces in the Bynum-Howard deal that sent Dwight to the Lakers indirectly making Vucevic partially responsible for Dwight donning the red and white. Indirect and partial thanks Nikola! With the injuries that have plagued Bynum, and Vucevic's ascent to the being among the top young centers in the East, Vucevic can now be viewed as the second best player in that deal. Harris is a springy third year forward who started last season averaging 11 minutes a game on a Bucks team that was going nowhere. After the trade, Harris averaged more than 35 minutes per and 17 points to go along with 8.5 rebounds. In his first full season with the Magic Harris will be expected to shine.
Two of the veterans charged with leading this group of youngsters are in a bit of a tricky situation. Glen Davis is coming off a career year but had to undergo foot surgery this off season and could be looking at limited minutes when he returns should Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson progress the way Coach Jaques Vaughn hopes. Long time Magic fixture Jameer Nelson may also see his playing time reduced now that Oladipo is getting play at the point guard position. With both of these wily veterans in reduced roles they might have to impart most of their wisdom from the bench.
Let's talk match-ups starting with the guards. The Magic duo of Oladipo and Nelson may present problems for Lin and Beverley for different reasons than you might think. Oladipo is the stronger more athletic guard of the two for the Magic but his inexperience in handling the ball could be a weakness that Patrick Beverley may exploit, as he did against Jru Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans in their preseason match-up last week. Lin has an opportunity to assert himself on the offensive end against the relatively diminutive Nelson. Oladipo's defensive tenacity could be a challenge when paired against Lin. This should be a good test of Lin's ability to go against larger athletic guards who seem to be in vogue especially in the Western Conference (Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Goran Dragic, Jru Holiday, etc.) Aaron Afflalo will be tasked with guarding Harden and running through and around screens might just be enough of a task for his shooting to suffer on the other end. Afflalo is a competent defender but I fully expect Harden to have his way on the offensive end.
The match-ups at the forward position should be very interesting. Parsons will be defended by Moe Harkless, another member of Orlando's youth movement. Harkless is a tireless defender and can wreak havoc in the passing lanes. Parsons should have his stamina tested against the long arms and quick hands of Harkless but as long as Parsons can do his duty on defense while maintaining his status as a slasher and shooter he should get the best of this matchup. Kyle O'Quinn will start in place of Glen Davis and should be easily handled by either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas.
At center Vucevic will have a lot on his plate attempting to contain Dwight Howard. Howard's athleticism is tough to go against for any center in the league, but Vucevic is active enough to keep up with the pick and rolls which he will be tasked with defending. Dwight will have to be patient on the defensive end and stay out of foul trouble.