Possible Playoff Preview? – New York Knicks at Orlando Magic

New York Knicks at Orlando Magic
December 30th, 2010 at 7:05 PM EST
Opening Line:  Orlando -7.5
Current Line:  Orlando -7.5
Opening Total: 213
Current Total: 213
Opening Moneyline:  Orlando -325 / NY +295
Current Moneyline:  Orlando -340 / NY +260

Howard will have his hands full with Amar'e on defense but likewise should be able to exploit Amar'e on the other end of the court, as well

Since making the two blockbuster trades that shipped out Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mikael Pietrtus and Marcin Gortat and brought in Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark, the Magic have won 4 of their last 5 and are appearing to once again have the look of a contending team after floundering with the aging Lewis and Carter operating in their starting lineup.  The Knicks have been hot, too, though, and have won 15 of their past 20 games, but have struggled in the most recent past, losing 4 of their last 6.

New York and Orlando had identical records of 18-12 a couple days ago and are now separated by 1.5 games in the standings.  If things stay the way they are for Orlando and New York leap frogs Atlanta in the standings, this could be a potential preview of a first round playoff matchup.

Some betting trends:  New York has won 8 of their last 10 road games, but are 6-13 ATS in their last 19 games in Orlando.  The total has gone OVER in 8 of the last 12 meetings between the teams and the total has gone OVER in 4 of the last 6 meetings in Orlando.  New York has lost 7 of their last 10 games in Orlando, as well.

Orlando, as mentioned, has won four of their last five since making the trade.  The total has gone OVER in 4 of those 5 games, as well, and it has gone UNDER In 4 of Orlando’s last 6 at home.  The Magic are 18-7 over their last 25 games at home and are 11-5 at home this season, but they are 2-4-1 ATS in their last 7 home games.  Orlando has won 6 of the last 7 meetings between the teams.

Some key matchups to keep an eye on:

Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Dwight Howard

This is obviously the marquee matchup of the game as it pits the best player on each team against one another in a heads up battle.  Amar’e has proven himself to be a superior scorer to Dwight, but Howard’s defense is what sets him a notch above Amar’e in terms of the caliber of player that they are.  While Howard’s defense is top notch, he often has to cheat off to play help side defense and cover the blunders of Orlando’s perimeter defense which could result in Amar’e getting some easy and cheap buckets.  He won’t need just those to score his points, though, as he is a good enough scorer to give even the likes of Howard trouble.  With his speed and agility, coupled with an automatic outside shot, Amar’e has been punishing opponents and is now averaging 26.3 points per game and he had a streak of 9 games consecutive with 30 points or more, including a 39 point outburst against the rugged defense of the Boston Celtics.  So to say he can succeed against good defenses would be an understatement.  For as good as he is on offense, he is nearly as bad on defense, however, and with Dwight Howard’s improved post game he should have his hands full on the defensive end.  If Howard can batter Amar’e inside and get him into foul trouble then this could be a good NBA Pick ATS in Orlando’s favor.  It’s worth keeping an eye on, and it might be possible that Ronny Turiaf sees more minutes to relieve Amar’e of the task of having to check Dwight.

Raymond Felton & Toney Douglas vs. Jameer Nelson & Gilbert Arenas

While Nelson and Arenas are sure to see extensive time together, Felton and Douglas are often on the court at different times and both bring something different to the New York offense.  Felton is a great scorer and distributor, while Douglas is a shoot first gunner who puts up points in a hurry.  They both will have trouble with Nelson and Landry Fields will probably have the task of checking Arenas most of the night (when Jason Richardson is either on the bench or playing small forward).  Arenas had a big game last time for Orlando, scoring 22 points and dishing out 11 assists, and he was clearly the best player on the court that night.  While it’s doubtful he returns to his heyday ways of scoring 25+ per game all season, he is a welcomed site on an Orlando team that was struggling to score prior to the trade.  Van Gundy hasn’t ruled out the possiblity of Arenas taking over as the starter, but is going to stick with bringing him off the bench for the moment.

Those two matchups will more or less determine the game.  While other players will play a role (Galinari vs. Hedo Turkoglu for instance), it will be the center and point guard positions that defnine tonight’s contest.  NBA Oddsmakers have set the line in Orlando’s favor, but given New York’s success on the road the spread could easily swing in their favor.

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