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Clippers - Magic Preview

The Clippers face the Magic in Amway Arena before the sun has set here in California.  (An aside - not even Energy Solutions Arena, named for a company that handles nuclear waste, has a more negative connotation, at least for me.  Too bad there's no Enron Field any more; it could be a contest.)  The Clippers defeated the Magic 116-91 30 days ago in their most impressive, most lopsided victory of the season.  That Magic team was 13-4, but the Clippers appear to have exposed the Magic's smoke and mirrors.  They are 5-10 since that game in LA.

The Magic still have one of the better records in the Eastern Conference, though of course the same could be said for the guys at my health club if they fielded a team.  It's hard to say why they went 13-4 in their first 17, and then 5-10 in their last 15.  They have the same guys, and it's a nice enough team.  Dwight Howard leads the league in rebounding, dunks, and rim-inflicted head injuries and is a double-double machine (he even has a couple of 20-20s this season).  However, he is limited offensively, and can't be expected to create his own shot.  This is probably the Magic's biggest weakness.  Nobody on the team can command a double team, not even Howard.

Which bodes well for the Clippers.  They have been poor on defensive rotations this season, but have played solid defense during this 3 game win streak against teams they could play straight up (Boston, Sacramento and New York).  If Shaun Livingston can limit the dribble penetration of Jameer Nelson, it's hard to see where the Magic are going to get their points.  (Nelson is a tough assignment for Shaun - don't be surprised if MDSr goes to Ewing or Ross early.)

The battle down low should be won by the Clippers.  Brand is coming off a 32 point game, and he scored 31 in the first meeting with the Magic, while Kaman is playing more like the guy who earned a $52M extension last season.  Tony Battie is long, and will try to contain Elton, but EB should be able to get solid low post position.  And either Brand or Kaman should be able to take Darko Milicic when he enters the game.  Milicic gets plenty of blocked shots from the weak side, but he is a poor on ball defender.

Meanwhile, both Clipper bigs have looked much better passing out of the double team in recent games.  For a month and a half, it seemed the Clippers never found a cutter for a layup, which is the best way to punish the double team.  It may be circumstantial, but it seems to me those dives to the rim have been there since Christmas.

Despite having several players capable of making threes, the Magic are 28th in the league in three pointers attempted, so hopefully the recurring nightmare of being outscored by 21 or more points from beyond the arc will not be an issue.  

If the Clippers play solid defense, play inside-out on offense, and limit their turnovers, they should be able to get out of Amway Arena with a win.  And maybe some nice cleaning products.