Preview: Phoenix Suns (6-5) at Orlando Magic (7-3)

Magic 105, Suns 89

Suns

Magic

If a “soft” Chris Bosh exposed the Phoenix Suns for 35 points on 12-for-17 shooting, imagine what “Superman” Dwight Howard will do to Phoenix’s pushover front line.

One night after being blown out of South Beach by the Heat, the center-less Suns take on Howard and the Orlando Magic in what has to be one of the toughest back-to-backs in the NBA.

It would be easy to think that Phoenix is in good shape because the Suns starters got some rest in the blowout and they’re in search of a bounce-back game in the worst way. But that’s far from reality. Here are three factors that make this a matchup nightmare for the Suns:

1. Orlando’s size

The Magic are one of the NBA’s biggest squads with a ton of depth down low — the polar opposite of the Suns. Howard could have himself a Kevin Love-like night with Channing Frye trying to hold his own against the 6-foot-11, 265-pound monster.

Although he’s averaging 21.5 points per game this season, Howard isn’t usually seen as a huge threat in the post. But the Suns have been abused in the paint all season long and if Superman gets good position early it’s going to be a long night for the Suns.

The Magic also have depth behind Howard, with Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass coming off the bench. Rashard Lewis is also a fairly big body. Although he’s thin, he could still back down Hedo Turkoglu and deliver with a turnaround or fadeaway that he has in his arsenal.

“We’re the only team in the league that prepares to play Phoenix by playing all big guys,” head coach Stan Van Gundy told The Associated Press. “They play small and we’re playing all big cause that’s all we got.”

That size will play a factor in the rebounding department more than anywhere. The Magic lead the NBA with a +6.7 rebound differential (44.44 to 37.7) while the Suns rank dead last in the league with a -6.3 rebound differential (40.5 to 45.8).

2. Nash’s health

UPDATE: Nash out against Orlando

According to a Paul Coro tweet, Steve Nash will be held out of the Orlando game tonight with a groin strain, making Goran Dragic the starter. Nash clearly wasn’t 100 percent against Miami, as he didn’t collect an assist the entire first half and finished the game with two.

Considering all the Suns have working against them anyway, this is probably the right move by Alvin Gentry. While Dragic isn’t Nash, he’s still a capable starter and it will be interesting to see how he can handle the starting role on the road against a team like the Magic.

Dragic will be facing one of the NBA’s stingiest defenses. Orlando ranks second in points allowed per game (90.8) and fifth in point differential (+7.1). Their defense starts with Howard, who averages 2.8 blocks per game, but luckily for the Suns, they don’t rely all that much on interior scoring anyway.

If Phoenix hopes to compete against the Magic defense, they need another night of three-point accuracy similar to the Laker win that saw 22 triples fall. Replicating that is unlikely, but the Suns need the three-pointers to fall to have a chance.

On the bright side, the Magic haven’t really beaten anyone all that impressive this season, losing to the Heat by 16 and the Jazz by 10, but beating the Hawks (one of the best opponents they’ve faced) by four.

3. Back-to-back

Are you tired of hearing about the importance of back-to-backs? Probably. But is it still worth noting? Of course, especially considering the Magic haven’t played since Monday, while the Suns will be playing their fifth game in the last eight days. For a team that relies so much on shooting and playing up-tempo, tired legs don’t equal success for the Suns.

Side note: After playing five seasons in Orlando and leading them to the NBA Finals in 2008, it will be interesting to see the reception Hedo Turkoglu gets from the Orlando crowd. Turkoglu’s probably had this game circled on his calendar and it will be interesting to see if he can return to Orlando form in a Suns uniform.

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