Tonight’s Test: Playing Big Without a Big

                                                  Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson have
                                                  big shoes to fill tonight against Portland
                                           , AP Photo – 12/2/2009

Tonight, the Magic face the Portland Trailblazers without our 6’11 giant, Dwight Howard.

By NBA rules, if a player is handed a league suspension, he cannot actually set foot inside the arena on gameday.  Thus, for Orlando’s final home game before heading westward for a long roadtrip, big D12 will not actually be in Downtown Orlando tonight.

Although Howard did joke about hosting a viewing party for the game on Orange Avenue, he will likely be a lot like an average fan tonight and catch the game on TV in the comfort of his Longwood mansion.

As much as Howard wants to play tonight, he is forced to sit out for a game after getting slapped with his 16th technical foul against the Bulls last week, retaliating with an extra elbow swing in the paint after dealing with abuse all night.

Thus, Van Gundy and Co. is left with a huge challenge – how to best put together a makeshift starting lineup to minimize the effects of Howard’s absence.

Since Marcin Gortat was shipped to Phoenix in December, the Magic have been left with only one true ‘big,’ so finding a temporary replacement for a 6’11 double-double machine is obviously difficult.

The Magic will likely take the court tonight with Jameer and Jason Richardson at guard and Hedo at forward, while starting with 6’10 Ryan Anderson and 6’8 Brandon Bass to serve as a kind of forward-center combo.  Rookie Malik Allen will almost certainly see some minutes tonight to help with the big-man effort.

Essentially, actual positions in the paint don’t really matter all that much tonight.  The Magic just need a total team effort to attempt to replicate the role of Dwight Howard, snatching rebounds and bodying up Portland’s Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge.

To be honest, this game is an unsettling sneak peak at where the Magic franchise would be if Howard were to ever suffer an unfortunate injury, keeping him out of games.  Think of the game much like a fire drill, a practice scenario should an emergency ever occur.

This is a great opportunity to find out who the real leaders and ballers are for the Magic.  In my opinion, even though I wrote the other day that Jameer Nelson is undoubtedly the team’s #2 player, whoever steps up tonight and pushes this team to a great performance will be the team’s true idol.

This is a team wide audition – who will step up?