Did the Washington Wizards learn anything in their recent back-to-back games against the Boston Celtics? Well, In both instances the team allowed itself to be surprised, first by a better-than-we-thought team led by Rajon Rondo's offense and Avery Bradley's defense, then by a bench comprised of no-names and prospects who obliterated an enormous Washington lead before John Wall's overtime heroics saved the day.
Tonight's game against the Orlando Magic features a lot of the same potential pitfalls. Like Boston, Orlando is firmly in rebuilding mode and it's easy to imagine opponents taking them lightly. Also, like Boston, the Magic has two long, quick guards who can force both Bradley Beal and Wall out of their comfort zones.
Where and when? Tip off is at 7 p.m. in Orlando.
Who's out? Martell Webster is definitely a no-go. Nene is most likely sitting out, but there is a chance he could play. Orlando is definitely missing Aaron Gordon and starting center Nicola Vucevic is questionable.
Nene (knee) took part in morning shootaround, he's questionable for tonight's #WizMagic game
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 10, 2014
Are they good? Nope, but they're not a train wreck. The Magic are 9-14 with the point differential of a 7-16 team. As tends to be the case with rebuilding teams, their most talented players are still a few years from their respective primes. The rest of the roster is filled with competent veterans and the kind of players who could start for a bad team, but would come off the bench for a good one.
How do the Wizards match up with them? Poorly, which is the main reason this game will be worth watching. Victor Oladipo is long, laterally quick and intense - the exact kind of defensive player who tends to give John Wall trouble. Meanwhile the 6'7" Evan Fournier is tall enough to both block Bradley Beal's jumpers and quick enough to stay in front of him.
The frontcourt is a bit more traditional and should give Washington fewer problems, especially if Vucevic sits. Tobias Harris, Channing Frye and Vucevic are all solid, but that's about it. Harris and Frye would play better if they played with more offensively gifted teammates who could draw defensive attention away from them - both are shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc.
How is Elfrid Payton doing? The 10th pick in the draft has struggled to score thus far, shooting 27 percent from beyond the arc and 38 percent overall, putting up fewer than 10 points per 36 minutes. Despite these mishaps, there's actually a lot to like about his performance so far, as he's been somewhere between good and great at creating opportunities for his teammates, snagging rebounds and forcing turnovers. His jumper is going to make or break him and will be the difference between the Magic having their point guard of the future or merely a very athletic back up.
Who's going to win? Barring a truly epic defensive performance from the Orlando backcourt, the Wizards will probably win this one comfortably. The Magic are still one or two lottery picks away from even being one of the best teams of tomorrow, much less today, and Washington is simply a better team at the moment.