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Open Thread and Contest: Game 39

Regular Season Game 39
Wizards (22-16) at Magic (22-17)
Amway Arena
7 PM

Previous Results: Magic 106, Wizards 103.  Wizards 112, Magic 111.  

For the second time this season, the Wizards and Magic play for a right to temporairly hold first place in the Southeast Divison.  In the last matchup, the Wizards slipped by Orlando 112-111 when Keyon Dooling's runner was well off the mark at the buzzer.  It was the first of many dramatic close wins for the Wizards at home.

Orlando's probably the polar opposite of the Wizards, maybe even moreso than Chicago.  The Magic don't have a high-powered offense, and rely on a budding Dwight Howard to generate points.  When Howard isn't getting the ball, it's Jameer Nelson running off ball screens and dishing to open shooters like Hedo Turkoglu and Grant Hill.  It's not a hard offense to stop, but the Wizards have still managed to surrender over 100 points in both contests.  On the defensive side, the Magic are a solid squad who play their men tight on the perimeter, fight hard through off-the-ball screens, and try to funnel scorers into Howard, who's defensive prowess is improving every game.  They'll make the Wizards work on the defensive end, even though the Magic don't have one guy who can be considered a perimeter stopper.  

One thing that Orlando lacks is a go to guy at the end of games, and after starting with a 9-1 record in games decided by 5 points or less, the Magic have lost three of their last four, not including their most recent overtime loss to the Hornets on Wednesday.  By contrast, the Wizards are 5-1 in their last six games decided by that same margin, with their only blemish being a 5 point loss at Toronto in a game they trailed by double digits most of the way.  Ivan Carter elaborates.

A lack of execution and playmaking in the late stages of close games has been a major reason why Orlando has gone 9-13 since opening the season 13-4. One problem is that unlike the Wizards, who can ride Arenas, Butler or Antawn Jamison at the end of a game, the Magic lacks a true go-to scorer.

Howard is growing into one of the league's few dominant post players -- he's second in the NBA with 28 double-doubles and leads the league in rebounding (12.6 per game) -- but is still developing and often faces double teams with no sure shooters to whom to pass. Following the loss to the Hornets in Oklahoma City on Monday, Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel, "It was almost like we were all looking around to see who's going to do it."

An example of Orlando's late-game shortcomings came at the end of Washington's 112-111 home win on Dec. 29. After Butler made a baseline jumper, giving the Wizards a one-point lead with 44 seconds remaining, Orlando's Keyon Dooling got a decent look at a potential game-winner but his runner from about 15 feet missed everything.

The Wizards have been more successful at the end of close games, and the way they won Wednesday night -- when the Knicks elected to double-team Arenas but got burned because DeShawn Stevenson kept his poise and drove to the basket before finding Butler for the game-winner -- gave opponents something extra to prepare for.

Another key should be the play of Caron Butler.  In the last matchup, Butler uncharacteristically missed two free throws at the end of the game, allowing the Magic to get one last chance to win the game.  It was a minor slipup for Butler, who is having a fantastic season.  Perhaps it's time to start a "Tough Juice in 07" all-star campaign, especially considering that Orlando's counterpart, the artist formerly known as Grant Hill, is currently six spots ahead of Butler in the all-star voting at forward.  With Gilbert Arenas struggling recently on the road, it'll be up to Butler to provide a big lift today against the slower Hill.      

Finally, the Wizards catch a real break, as Trevor Ariza, Orlando's promising young forward, sprained his MCL against the Warriors and is out for another month and a half.  Ariza killed the Wizards in the last meeting, with 18 points in only 25 minutes.  He's exactly the type of athlete that gives the Wizards fits, and nobody on the Wizards can really match up with him.  I'm still baffled that Isaiah Thomas was willing to give up on him in the Steve Francis trade.  Any future the Magic hope to have should include Ariza, and they've missed him badly in their last three losses.

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

Your lines for tonight:

Wizards at Magic: Magic by 4.
Over/Under on Big 3: 69.6 points.

This is an open game thread, so any J.J. Redick hate jokes go here.  Also, while you're here, be sure to comment on what the Wizards' rotation should be in this thread.