WHO: Atlanta @ Orlando
WHERE: No TV, Hawks Radio Network (should any station preempt coverage of the pre-season game I suggest NBA Audio League Pass)
Injury Report: Speedy Claxton is expected to miss the game. I guess it would be too much to expect Claxton and Tony Battie to be healthy concurrently.
Not much news in anticipation of tonight's pre-season opener. Sekou Smith explains why he will be watching Al Horford, Josh Smith, Othello Hunter, and Acie Law IV closely.
Mike Woodson, once again, really wants to win pre-season games:
"Just win baby. It’s time to play, man. Some people view preseason game as something to get players in shape and get ready for the season. To me, it’s huge in terms of using that time to bond and get used to doing things in a winning way. I don’t think you can do it any other way. You have to play to win."
Ben Q. Rock of Third Quarter Collapse and I exchanged questions and answers about respective teams. My answers to his questions are here. His answers to my questions are after the jump.
Peachtree Hoops: The Magic allowed 5.3 more points per 100 possessions when Maurice Evans was on the floor last season. Is he a good perimeter defender primarily in reputation now or was that +/- related to his usage?
Third Quarter Collapse: I think that increase is largely due to usage. Maurice Evans is a solid perimeter defender, but he's not a "lockdown" guy... nor does anyone think he is. His adjusted plus-minus better reflects his defensive skills: -2.08, or seventh on the team last year. I don't recall anyone really torching him, except for his good buddy Richard Hamilton in the playoffs.
I'll put it this way: the Atlanta Hawks could have done much worse than sign Maurice Evans for three-point shooting and defense off the bench. We miss him in Orlando.
Peachtree Hoops: Everyone (at least everyone I've read, I'm sure there are contrarians afoot) is picking the Magic to win the Southeast Division. Do you agree? If so, how much beyond winning a division title do you believe Orlando can accomplish?
Third Quarter Collapse: I wouldn't call the Orlando Magic a lock to win the Southeast, but they should be heavily favored. The Washington Wizards figure to be the only team that has enough talent, on paper, to challenge the Magic. With Gilbert Arenas out until at least December, Orlando essentially has a two-month head start on Washington to secure a huge lead in the division. The sleeper may be the Miami Heat, especially if they can convert Shawn Marion's expiring deal into a starting-caliber center.
Beyond a division title, I think the Magic have the personnel and coaching to make a deep playoff run, maybe even to the NBA Finals. But that's entirely too optimistic. However, I would not be surprised to see them in the Conference Finals. The Philadelphia 76ers and the Cleveland Cavaliers upgraded, but I'll have to see how they play before vaulting them ahead of Orlando in the rankings.
Peachtree Hoops: Is there anyone you think/hope could be a surprise to make Orlando's roster?
Third Quarter Collapse: I think the Magic did a good job inviting Dwayne Jones and Jeremy Richardson to camp. They'll compete for the final roster spot, and I won't be disappointed if either player earns it, as each fills a specific need. Jones, however offensively challenged, rebounds and blocks shots like no one else on the team but Dwight Howard. There's no doubt the Magic need toughness in the middle, and although they have Tony Battie returning from shoulder surgery, they could use a young guy to bang down there, too. Jones could be that guy.
Jeremy Richardson also intrigues me. In his short, yet well-traveled career, he's managed to shoot a higher percentage from three-point range than from two-point range. Stan Van Gundy's offense puts a premium on three-point shooting, and with Dwight Howard in the middle, Richardson could get plenty of open looks from the outside. The problem is that he's primarily a small forward, the same position as Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, the Magic's best perimeter scorers. He's a long-shot to make the team, simply because of the depth it already has at that position, but he could prove valuable as an end-of-the-bench type of player, especially in the event that the Magic deal Turkoglu before the trading deadline.
It's also entirely possible that the Magic won't retain either player. Otis Smith has said previously he likes the flexibility having an open roster spot provides, and he may see Jones and Richardson as merely scrimmage partners for the players with guaranteed contracts. That'd be a shame. Both guys seem like they'd fit-in well in Orlando.