Fantasy Notes: Who Needs Superman?
How good is Orlando? Well, the Magic won the past two games of its dreaded Western road trip without Dwight Howard, including a win in Utah – one of the toughest places in the NBA to come away with a victory over the past couple of seasons. Now road-proven Orlando heads home to take on San Antonio tonight, and Superman will be back in action after missing the past two games with a knee injury. Going up against the Spurs is never a cakewalk, but coming off a tough loss in New Orleans Wednesday night – its first setback in two weeks — San Antonio limps into the Magic Kingdom and has to face a team fortified by the return of two-time All-Star Howard. Of course, like most teams, the Magic hasn’t fared so well against San Antonio, losing three straight and 11 of its past 14. By the way, speaking of Howard, when we ranked him No. 4 on list of the top 25 centres, we told you he’d be blocking more shots this season. Uh yeah…he’s nearly doubled his swat rate from 2.1 to 3.9 per game. Sick.
One good thing that came of Howard’s injury is that the Magic got a chance to see what it has on its hands in Marcin Gortat. Despite foul trouble, he blocked four shots in his first start in place of Howard on Saturday, and then on Monday, he broke out with career highs of 16 points and 13 rebounds while swatting another three shots, again battling foul problems. Gortat got a tiny bit of fantasy attention for his performance, but we now know that if Howard ever goes down with a significant injury, this kid Gortat can freaking play!
Believe it or not, there are still some shallow leagues in which Jameer Nelson is not owned. After Monday’s career-high tying 32-point explosion, which included five treys, four boards and three steals, I can’t believe this guy is still available. Nelson has taken his game to a new level of late, hoisting up way more shots from downtown – and sinking them – while averaging over 19 PPG with 2.5 SPG in December. If he can avoid injury the rest of the season, Nelson is on track for a career year, mostly aided by a much-improved shooting touch. By the way, how about that third quarter he had on Monday? He nailed all three from beyond the arc and racked up 15 points in the stanza. Who the hell was that?
This four-game homestand will tell us a lot about whether the Magic is a true contender in the East and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Boston and Cleveland. Besides dealing with a hot Spurs squad, Orlando has to face the Lakers – the best team in the West, the Warriors (okay, that’s a slam dunk), and then the Hornets, another very hot team. We already know Orlando can get it done on the road – its 10 wins away from home paces the NBA. Now, let’s see if it can continue that success in Mickeyland.
Rashard Lewis was a big disappointment in his first season in Orlando, but he’s turning things around now. He’s been getting more touches this season, and his shot has simply been dropping more lately – especially in the past week or so, as he’s averaged 23.3 PPG in his last four. Lewis has stayed healthy since landing in Orlando, and now he’s starting to reward his owners, particularly from downtown, where he’s been hurling up a career-high seven attempts per game. If you recall, back when we previewed the team, I predicted that Lewis would step up in his second season with the Magic.
The Spurs will be looking to get back in the win column after its six-game streak was snapped in the Big Easy, which isn’t exactly such a simple place to get a win these days. Of course, nowhere is it easy to get a win when you manage to sink just four of your final 21 shots as the Spurs did Wednesday. The Spurs – normally one of the top shooting teams in the NBA at 46.41 per cent on the season – sunk just 38.8 per cent of its shots Wednesday, and that cold snap down the stretch led to them being outscored 23-8 to end the game.
When San Antonio’s shots are not dropping, the team is extremely vulnerable. For instance, the Spurs have won 10 of their past 14 games, and when they lose, they shoot just 38.6 per cent and average just over 81 PPG, but when they win they are shooting almost 50 per cent and putting up 108.6 PPG. Unfortunately, Orlando is one of the best in the NBA at limited its opponents’ field percentage, with its 43.66 per cent ranking sixth overall.
I’m loving what I’m seeing from Tony Parker lately; he’s clearly back to full strength. His minutes keep rising, yet he’s really protecting the pumpkin, having made just four turnovers in the last three games. Mr. Longoria is shooting 51 per cent on the season and looks headed for a career year should he stay in the lineup from here on out.
Although his numbers have slipped lately, have you noticed that Tim Duncan is enjoying his highest scoring season in five years? Yes, much of that was driven by his early-season boost in touches with both Parker and Manu Ginobili missing in action. However, one reason why I think Duncan’s offense won’t fall too far is that he’s doing a better job of getting to the line. He’s made 17 trips to the charity stripe in the past two games alone, a trend which will definitely help keep his scoring totals up.
Need a centre? Try Matt Bonner, who despite a crappy shooting night Wednesday (3-for-15), has been doing a great job lately since taking over from Fabricio Oberto as the Spurs’ starter. He’s doing a better job on the glass, with 15 boards in the past two games, and has even grabbed three steals over that pair of contests as well. The touches have been there lately (the 15 shot attempts on Wednesday was more than any other Spur), so Bonner looks like a decent addition, especially given his ability to contribute in 3-pointers. Oberto, meanwhile, isn’t even playing these days, so Bonner is apparently the man in San Antonio for the rest of the season.