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Open Thread and Contest: Game 29

As a quick note before we get into the game preview, be sure to check out the Carnival of the NBA.  Or you can just scroll down.  Either one works.  

Anyway, onto the preview.

Regular Season Game 29
Magic (17-13) vs. Wizards (16-12)
Verizon Center
7 PM
CSN and NBA League Pass

Previous Results: Magic 106, Wizards 103

Of the 28 previous games this season, this one is probably the most important.  Not only is first place on the line, but with the struggles of the entire Atlantic Division, a Top 3 seed is on the line.  Granted, there's still a ton of season left to be played, but you have to give the winner of this one a psychological advantage.  

This is also a tale of two teams going in opposite directions.  The Magic started the season 13-4, but have gone 4-9 since.  They're 3-7 in their last 10 games and are coming off two consecutive home losses to the Warriors and the Lakers.  Their struggles didn't stop ESPN's Eric Neel from writing a passionate manifesto of what he sees as the impending new Dwight Howard era.

Actually, Howard hasn't been the problem at all.  He's increased his numbers to 17 points and 13 boards while blocking two shots a game.  He's shooting nearly 57 percent from the field and has delivered a couple jaw-dropping performances, including one against Ben Wallace on opening night.  The Magic are also getting great production out of Grant Hill, and Trevor Ariza has recently reaffirmed everyone's belief that Isaiah Thomas can't manage a team.  Everything should be cool, but it isn't.  

What's the problem?  The guards.  Simply put, Orlando isn't going anywhere until they get a real pass-first point guard.  Jameer Nelson, Carlos Arroyo, and Keyon Dooling are killing this team.  The first two have the highest usage rates on the team (yes, even higher than Howard and Hill), and the last one is shooting 39 percent from the field.  

Forum Blue and Gold has more on Arroyo and Nelson from his game preview Wednesday.  

The reason for the cooling is the quick guard combo of Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo has gone cold. For the season Nelson is shooting 51.1% (eFG%) but in the last 10 that has fallen to 36.7%, his three point shooting has fallen from a not-good 31.5% to an abysmal 17.6%.

Arroyo's shooting has fallen to 39.4% in the last 10 -- and just 10% from beyond the arc -- but he continues to shoot the ball like he has the hot hand. The only two players on the Magic who have taken more shots in the last 10 games are named Hill and Howard (and they both play 10 more minutes a game).

This hot shooting streak stretched from the last quarter of last season through the first quarter of this season, but teams have figured out how to stop Nelson and Arroyo recently.  However, neither has stopped shooting, and when they dominate the ball, that means fewer touches for Howard, Hill, Ariza, Hedo Turkoglu, and Darko.  Making matters worse is that neither Nelson, Arroyo, or Dooling is a pure point guard.  All are combo guards, which explains why Nelson slipped to the 20th pick in the 2004 draft, why Arroyo fell out of favor with Jerry Sloan and Larry Brown, and why Dooling has failed everywhere else since being a lottery pick.  It's no wonder that the Magic are 28th in scoring (92.7) and dead last in turnovers (17 a game).  

Despite all this, those three can score in bunches when they're hot, and the Wizards did a really poor job defending them in the first meeting.  The Wizards struggle to defend the perimeter, which should lead to all sorts of open shots for the aformentioned three combo guards.  Combine that with Howard's offensive rebounding ability (magnatized by Brendan Haywood being out there instead of Etan Thomas), and this game is no pushover.  Even if the Magic are going nowhere this year.

Magic blogs: Magic Fan Attic,  Believing in Magic, Orlando Magic Blog

Here's your projected starters.

PG: Jameer Nelson
SG: Grant Hill
SF: Hedo Turkoglu
PF: Tony Battie
 C: Dwight Howard

PG: Gilbert Arenas
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Antawn Jamison
 C: Brendan Haywood

I'm going to be at Verizon Center for this one with my brother.  If you're going, I'll be in Section 118, Row C, Seat 3.  Come say hi if you're a regular here.  Don't worry, I don't bite, I promise.  

Your lines:

Magic at Wizards: Wizards by 6.5
Over/Under on Big 3: 70 points

This is an open game thread, so post away about the game.