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Later tonight, the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat will square off in a game that has a chance to be special. Or not. Right now, the Magic are a team struggling to right the ship.
Brandon Bass, the starting power forward for Orlando, is sidelined for the foreseeable future and the defense — predictably so — has fallen off a cliff quite a bit, even though head coach Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard oversee a unit that ranks fourth in defensive efficiency.
The Magic’s perimeter defense has been dreadful, at times, and when Howard is sitting on the bench, opponents have been more than happy to attack the basket because they know the big fella isn’t there to stop them. Ryan Anderson and, before his injury, Bass aren’t intimidating presences in the paint. This is an issue that needs to be resolved.
Not only that but after a hot start, Hedo Turkoglu has begun to slow down and he’s one of the reasons that Orlando has lost their way in recent weeks. During the Magic’s nine-game winning streak, Turkoglu was playing good-to-great basketball but recently, he’s been little better than average. If Jameer Nelson is seen as the heart of Orlando, then Turkoglu is the soul.
And right now, the Magic have been soulless lately.
The bright side is that Orlando still has time to fix their problems. A win against the Heat would be a good start, even if the Magic will have some troubles since they’ll be without the services of Bass.
To preview tonight’s proceedings, Surya Fernandez (writer at Hot Hot Hoops and contributor at NBA FanHouse) was kind enough to give his perspective on the latest happenings in Miami.
Fernandez provided his opinion where Udonis Haslem fits in with the Heat in crunch-time when he returns from injury, head coach Erik Spoelstra’s ability to get the most out of his players, and more.
It’s a trick question, of sorts, but who’s more valuable to the Miami Heat — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Chris Bosh?
With the way the roster has been constructed, the Heat need steady contributions from all three to win. Yes, they’ve shown they can sometimes win when one or even two are out but if the Heat want to make a deep run in the playoffs all three must be healthy and at the top of their games, period. So it’s almost impossible to identify which of the three is the most valuable. Admittedly the Heat looked positively lost on offense when Bosh was recently out. Wade and LeBron can somewhat duplicate what each other can bring to the offense but their defensive contributions in tandem are also critical to team success. Wade is the sentimental favorite but if push comes to shove and I have to pick one of them, I’d go with LeBron by a hair because of his versatility.
When Udonis Haslem returns from injury, will the Wade-Miller-James-Bosh-Haslem combination be the go-to crunch-time unit for the Heat?
Haslem is a solid player who has shown that he can be clutch with timely rebounds and a steady midrange jumper. However it’s all about matchups and he’s not tall enough to be paired with Bosh against certain teams. As nice as that lineup would look on offense, putting Bosh in the middle gives an opening for teams to attack the basket. We still haven’t seen that lineup together so maybe it clicks and Spoelstra may tinker with it once Haslem is healthy but I wouldn’t be comfortable with that lineup in crunch time.
What are the advantages that head coach Erik Spoelstra has when he’s able to trot out Wade, Miller, and James on the wings?
The experiment has just started since the three of them had been nursing injuries but it gives the team so many options as all three are playmakers, can rebound and stretch the floor with their penetration and shooting. Their size is mostly an advantage but they could have problems against smaller, quicker point guards, but then again that’s been a struggle all season to contain those type of players. Coach has shown little confidence in Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers down the stretch with good reason. They simply can’t stay in front of their man. The Heat are only now enjoying the benefits of what Miller can bring to the team and it’s still a work in progress settling on a rotation but these three together are jelling quickly.
Aside from Dwight Howard, which player concerns Miami the most?
That’s a tough question as the Heat haven’t played against the new-look Magic yet, which makes Thursday’s game so fascinating. Jameer Nelson has the potential to be a player the Heat don’t have answers for but his production has been up and down against Miami.
Has Spoelstra gotten the most out of the Heat yet?
Yes, I’d say so. Maybe Pat Riley or another veteran coach could have squeezed a few more wins here and there but ultimately their record is pretty impressive considering they’ve had to incorporate so many new players and injuries have ruined any continuity they could have had. Spoelstra has weathered a lot of criticism and stayed on point with his message and philosophy. Not much more you can ask for such a young coach on a team with so much focus placed on them.
I like to thank Surya for taking the time to answer my questions.