The 2010-11 season is here. No, it is here. The season is underway and we can finally stop conjecturing and start making sense of this summer of upheaval. The new season will be much different than the old. So let’s continue thinking and previewing 2011 and all the hope and promise that comes with it.
Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog.com has organized the NBA Blog Preview, consisting of all the best basketball blogs across the Internet, to help everyone get ready. I am trying to keep up and give a Magic-centered look at each team being previewed.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Year: 50-32, Lost in Western Conference First Round
Last Year vs. Magic: Lost 102-74 in Oklahoma City (Nov. 8); Won 108-94 in Orlando (Nov. 18)
This Year vs. Magic: Jan. 13 in Oklahoma City (8 p.m.); Feb. 25 in Orlando (8 p.m.)
Magic Connection: Assistant Coach Mark Bryant (Coach, 2005-07)
Kevin Durant has seen a lot in in his short NBA career. He is already an NBA scoring champion, an international superstar and gold medal winner. Now, at the ripe old age of 22, Durant is expected to lead his rag-tag band of young guns to the top of the Western Conference.
No team had more buzz around them than this Oklahoma City Thunder team. Every strategic move Sam Presti has made since drafting Durant and trading Ray Allen has led to this team. This team that gave the Lakers all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs.
The media storm started then and it has not really stopped. There are some people who think the Thunder would rise to the second best record in the Western Conference and some even had them in the NBA Finals. The comparison between this Oklahoma City team and the 1995 Orlando Magic have already begun — minus the presence in the middle.
Kevin Durant has a lot of expectations weighing on his shoulders. And early in this season, it appears the team is struggling to help him bear that weight.
Defense was the catchphrase for the Thunder last year and that was where they made their biggest stride and biggest leap. That is what Oklahoma City will have to focus on to improve this year. There is no doubt Durant and Russell Westbrook, who is making his own All Star push so far this season, are great offensive players. With all this attention put on the Thunder, their defense will be key to any success Oklahoma City wants to have.
How the Thunder will beat the Magic: It is going to take a lot of defense from this young squad to stop the Magic. But the Thunder have some athletes and some long ones too that can get after the Magic and put some pressure defensively on the perimeter. Westbrook gave Jameer Nelson issues in the first meeting last year. Kevin Durant is a matchup nightmare and when he is hitting shots, he is nearly impossible to stop.
What we saw last year in the first meeting with Oklahoma City is kind of what the team needs to do to beat Orlando. With so much youth and length on the floor, the Thunder need to push the pace and get out on the break and try to force the Magic into unfavorable matchups in transition. They want to see Durant being guarded by Vince Carter or Nelson and not by Mickael Pietrus. That can happen if Oklahoma City can beat Orlando down the floor.
It will also take a big commitment on the defensive end, something Oklahoma City has struggled with so far this year.
How the Magic will beat the Thunder: If the Thunder have a big, gaping hole in their roster construction it is at center. And that is the area Dwight Howard can easily exploit. The Thunder do not have anyone who can guard Howard one on one. It was only two years ago that Howard recorded his first career triple double against this very Thunder team.
Oklahoma City is much better than it was that time. But Howard can be just as dominant on the inside against Oklahoma City.
The advantage Howard provides goes to the defensive end as well. Anything Orlando can do to keep Durant and Westbrook out of the lane will make this team much easier to defeat.