Friday April 17th, 2009

OVERVIEW: Orlando arrives in the postseason with a thud, having gone 4-5 in April while dealing with some bothersome injuries to key players. Fortunately for the Magic, they'll meet a team slumping even worse, as the Sixers prepped for the postseason by losing six of their last seven (with the lone victory a gift from a Cavs team more interested in resting players than winning). One positive for the 76ers is starting forward Thaddeus Young returned earlier this week after missing seven games with a sprained ankle. Young's comeback is a boost to Philadelphia's running game, an integral part of its offense.



1. Orlando injuries. Rashard Lewis (17.7 points) missed the last three regular-season games with knee tendinitis and Orlando's other starting forward, Hedo Turkoglu (16.8 points), sat out the last two with a sprained ankle. The Magic are hoping to have their second- and third-leading scorers available for Game 1.

2. Deep trouble. Thirty-two percent. That's the Sixers' conversion rate on three-pointers this season, worst in the NBA. When you can't space the court from long range, and don't have much of a post presence, you aren't giving one of the league's best defenses much to focus on but your slashers, and that's no way to win a series.

3. Dwight Howard's free-throw shooting. Will the big man's woes at the line cost the Magic in the playoffs? Howard has shot about 59 percent in each of the last four regular seasons; his career playoff mark is 51.7 percent in 14 games.


UNDER THE RADAR: The Magic signed defensive-minded shooting guard Mickael Pietrus to a four-year, $23 million contract last offseason with an eye toward this time of year. The 6-foot-6 Pietrus, along with rookie Courtney Lee, will be asked to slow down Andre Iguodala in the first round and perhaps Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in the conference semifinals. Also, Pietrus' ability to space the floor (he's one of five Magic players with at least 80 three-pointers) could be particularly important if injuries limit Lewis and/or Turkoglu.


PREDICTION: Magic in 4. Orlando may not be a well-oiled machine at this point, but it will contain the Sixers' limited offensive options without much trouble and burn their mediocre defense from three-point range. And truth be told, it wouldn't make much difference even if Elton Brand were on the floor for Philadelphia.


Cavaliers vs. Pistons Hawks vs. Heat Celtics vs. Bulls Lakers vs. Jazz Nuggets vs. Hornets Blazers vs. Rockets Spurs vs. Mavericks

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