The Wizards got a nice little break this week. Three days off before Wednesday's home game against Detroit, then two days off before hosting the Orlando Magic Saturday. Meanwhile, the Magic will be playing their fourth game in five nights after hitting the road for two against Toronto and New York earlier in the week and hosting Milwaukee on Friday.
Nevertheless, this is far from a guaranteed win. The Magic gave the Wizards a game in the first week of the season and are starting to come together now that both Channing Frye and Victor Oladipo are healthy. Here's what you need to know.
Game time: Tip is a 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center. CSN will broadcast the game on TV, and you can listen on 99.1 FM.
Who's out: Bradley Beal and Martell Webster won't play for the Wizards. It sounds like Nene will be good to go after a slight shoulder scare against Detroit. Kyle O'Quinn and Roy Devyn Marble are out for Orlando. Oladipo returned for Friday's win over the Bucks, but only played 25 minutes. I'd expect him to hover around that range again in this game.
Come on, the Magic? They can beat the Wizards? Absolutely. The Magic are coming together, having won four of six since an 0-4 start. Even their losses have been competitive: seven to this Wizards team, four in Toronto, seven at Chicago, eight at Brooklyn. Jacque Vaughn is settling on a rotation full of young, athletic players that will get up and down the court.
There's a lot to worry about in that rotation. Tobias Harris is on fire, averaging 18 and nine this season. He swings between small and power forward, which makes him really tough to defend because he's too big for 3s, but too quick for 4s. Watching him drop 26 and 10 on the Bucks' similarly-sized duo of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo was scary. He can handle in pick and roll, post up and cut into the lane for dunks or offensive rebound opportunities. Paul Pierce and Nene are going to have their hands full tonight, and Lord help us if Kris Humphries has to run with him.
There's also Nikola Vucevic to worry about. The Magic big man has become a really good post scorer and has always been fantastic on the glass. This is the kind of matchup that often hurts Marcin Gortat. For the Wizards to succeed, Gortat has to use his speed to defeat Vucevic in the pick and roll game on the other end.
We haven't even discussed Orlando's emerging backcourt, now fortified with the return of Oladipo. Elfrid Payton is very raw, but he's shown flashes of brilliance. Meanwhile, Evan Fournier has given Orlando much-needed three-point shooting, with a dash of playmaking and defense. As a third guard, you could do a lot worse.
What especially worries you? Harris in particular. How the Wizards deal with him will determine the game. They cannot let him get into the paint.
The Wizards also have to be able to shake Oladipo's defense. Brandon Knight was killing Orlando last night until Oladipo switched onto him and took him out of the game. If Payton struggles, look for the Magic to play Oladipo and Fournier together and have Oladipo try the same trick on John Wall.
What's the key to victory? Tempo. With Kyle O'Quinn out and Andrew Nicholson in Vaughn's doghouse, the Magic really only have two bigs that play. They will attempt to go small with either Harris or Aaron Gordon at power forward for long stretches. This is one of those nights where, annoying as it may seem, the Wizards need to play through the post. Nene, Gortat and Kevin Seraphin have to be efficient with their post-ups attempts, especially early in the game. If they can get some easy buckets in the lane, it'll force Orlando to double team, which'll open other opportunities.
The size vs. speed battle will be especially evident when Orlando puts its second unit out there. Frye will drag the Wizards' big man away from the hoop, but both Humphries and Seraphin can score on Gordon or Harris in the post. Whoever wins that battle wins the game.
Prediction: I won't lie: this game scares me. But I'm picking the home team to pull it out in a tight one down the stretch.