Howard_vince_medium If any of you had the chance to read Andrew’s Decade of Change piece for SB Nation, then you’ll know why I’m a little upset about this game. The Magic come to town for a marquee matchup, but they do so for the second game of a back-to-back after winning in Sacramento last night (something Denver failed to accomplish this season). Like Andrew says in the piece, “Cease all back to back games.”

The particulars …

24-14 (16-3 at home, 8-11 on the road)
Orlando: 26-12 (14-4 at home, 12-8 on the road)
Ty Lawson (ankle) is a game time decision.
Orlando: Vince Carter (sprained shoulder) is listed as day-to-day.
TV: NBA TV, Altitude (HD feed is HDNET and that is channel 664 on Comcast. Even if it doesn’t say it is on … it comes on at tipoff.)

Opposition's Take: Orlando Pinstriped Post

The Orlando Magic can best be described as a Grand Canyon team … they are big and they are deep. The Nuggets will have an advantage tonight as they should be the fresher team, coming into the game with a day of rest. However, the Nuggets are playing their fourth game in six nights, but finally have Carmelo Anthony back from injury with a game under his belt against the T-Wolves to shake off the rust.

The Magic demolished the Kings last night in the fourth quarter by outscoring Sacramento (on the Kings home floor) 33-10 and winning the game 109-88. The Nuggets lost to the Kings on January 9th by allowing the Kings to win the fourth quarter 29-24. Teams always match up differently against other teams, but Orlando took care of business and they did so without Vince Carter.

Orlando is not a team that is dependent on a certain player, so far this season they have been without starting point guard Jameer Nelson for 16 games, starting power forward Rashard Lewis for 10 games (suspension), starting shooting guard Vince Carter for 6 games and guard/forward Mickael Pietrus for 2 games. This team knows how to deal with injuries thanks to their tremendous depth (more on that later).

Lately, the Magic have stumbled a bit by dropping 5 of their last 10 games including a four-game losing streak recently at Chicago, at Indiana, vs. Toronto and at Washington before getting back on track and winning their last two games against Atlanta and last night in Sacramento. This team is not invincible and they can live-and-die by the three-pointer as they average roughly 28 attempts from beyond the arc per game compared to Denver's 16 attempts.

Let's look at some individual matchups …

Point Guard: Chauncey Billups vs. Jameer Nelson.
Probably not too many people around here that don’t recall Denver drafting Nelson for the Magic and trading his rights away on draft night to Orlando. The question … would you rather have Billups and Lawson or Nelson and Player X? I love Denver’s veteran/rookie combo and what each guy brings to the team. Billups with the IQ and ability to hit any shot on the court and Lawson’s ability to come in and completely change the tempo of the game. Nelson can be a tough draw for Billups with his speed and ability to play like a better or at least more experienced version of Ty Lawson … right now I think you could say that Lawson has a lot of Nelson’s game and for Denver fans we know that means Nelson can be a difference maker tonight. Nelson has been slowed by injury this season and played just 25 minutes last night as he is nursing a sore knee. Both guards are important to their teams success and both can play at a very high level … slight advantage Denver (because of Nelson’s sore knee).

Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo vs. J.J. Redick.
With Vince Carter missing last night’s game in Sacramento I expect him to sit out again tonight. Redick played 38 minutes last night in Carter’s absence and like he has done throughout his career, he struggled to shoot the ball going just 2-9 from the field and 0-6 from deep. When Redick is on the floor that should give Denver the ability to slide Billups on him defensively and allow Afflalo to check Nelson, Jason “White Chocolate” Williams or Pietrus. Afflalo is averaging 11.8 points in his last five games and scored 15 points against the T-Wolves his last time out. Arron has proved he’s more than just a defensive specialist and three point shooter and his all-around game continues to grow. Advantage Denver.

Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony vs. Matt Barnes.
Barnes is one of my favorite NBA players. When he helped take out the highly touted Dallas Mavericks as a member of the Golden State Warriors during the 2007 playoffs he became a favorite of mine. The guy can shoot the three, get out on the fast break and likes to take big shots (even if he doesn’t always make them). Barnes is the typical NBA underdog story and has bounced around the league (now with his 7th team) and I just can’t help but root for the guy. Barnes numbers are down a little bit this year, especially his three-point shooting (26% from a career 32%). He’s familiar with Melo, but Melo’s size will prove difficult for Barnes so I think Melo can expect some double-teams (per usual). Melo got a game under his belt and had a chance to shake off some rust Monday night, so expect the high-scoring Melo to make an impact tonight. Advantage Denver.

Power Forward: Kenyon Martin vs. Rashard Lewis.
Lewis served a 10-game suspension for a positive performance enhancing drug test to start the season. Through 27 games Lewis’ scoring is down to 14.8 ppg from 17.7 last season. Lewis can stretch the floor (40% from deep) and likes to hang out on the perimeter if he’s getting open looks. Pulling Martin away from the paint serves as a major advantage to clearing things for Dwight Howard to work inside. Lewis is quick enough to stay with Martin on the defensive end, but Martin has the athleticism to get his bunnies off in any kind of traffic … but what kind of touch Martin possesses tonight goes a long way to making his night a good one or a bad one on the offensive end. Martin’s defense will be tested tonight as he’ll be covering a different type of player tonight that could keep Martin from being a bit help on the defensive glass as he may be out of paint for much of the night. Advantage Orlando.

Center: Nene vs. Dwight Howard.
The battle of the bigs … Howard is a beast and is still working on his post up game. He also logged 41 minutes last night and that should help wear him down in the second half tonight. Nene has had issues with guarding bigger players and Howard fits right into that mold. Nene is playing on a bit of a bum ankle and will face a major test tonight. If Nene is going to try to use his flip shot … Howard could feast on blocking it. The Orlando big man loves to block shots and leads the league with 2.47 per game to go along with his league leading 13.2 rebounds per game. Advantage Orlando.

Benches: J.R. Smith, Chris Andersen, Anthony Carter and Ty Lawson vs. Jason Williams, Mickael Pietrus, Ryan Anderson and Marcin Gortat.
The Magic are such a deep team that even with Vince Carter out they still have a bench that can go five deep (I didn’t even mention Brandon Bass because he can’t even get off the bench in Orlando). Gortat also has seen his role diminish and is only playing 13 minutes a night. Orlando’s bench features a bunch of shooters and if they come in and get hot … look out. The Nuggets could be without Ty Lawson and that will hurt Denver’s ability to really change the pace of the game. The Nuggets bench is a high-energy one when healthy that features a dynamic scorer in J.R. Smith, but the bench has been struggling this season to be as big of a difference maker as they were last year. But because Denver’s bench is key to what they do … only a slight advantage Orlando.

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Photo courtesy of AP Photos: Chuck Burton