In April, the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors met in an Eastern Conference first-round series featuring two up-and-coming teams led by young big men. Two months into this season, only one of those teams has looked worthy of even returning to the playoffs.
Dwight Howard and the Southeast Division-leading Magic try to continue their stellar start to the season on Sunday in Toronto by preventing Chris Bosh and the Raptors from opening the New Year with back-to-back wins.
Last season, Orlando (26-7) won its first division title since 1998-99 and advanced to the conference semifinals where it was eliminated by Detroit in five games. In the first round, the Magic ousted Toronto (13-20) in five games to win its first playoff series since 1995-96.
This season, Orlando is looking like a contender to come out of the East, just 2 1/2 games back of conference-leading Boston behind Howard’s league-leading 24 double-doubles.
Howard had one for the seventh time in eight games Friday as the Magic defeated Miami 86-76 on Friday for their ninth win in 10 contests.
His two blocks and two steals spearheaded another solid defensive effort by Orlando, which limited the Heat to 40.5 percent shooting in the game and only 11 fourth-quarter points. The Magic are holding opponents to an average of 83.5 points on 38.3 percent shooting in their last six games.
Orlando boasts one of the best defenses in the league, and is 21-2 when allowing 98 or fewer points. Toronto, meanwhile, is 7-16 when scoring 100 points or fewer.
This is the Magic’s first visit to Air Canada Centre since winning Game 4 of last season’s playoff series despite Bosh’s 39 points. It was just their second victory in their last 10 games at Toronto.
Bosh has scored 40 in each of his last two regular season games versus Orlando, and he also had a season-high 18 rebounds in the lone meeting this season but Toronto lost 103-90 on Nov. 18.
He’s averaged 34.8 points in his last six regular season games against the Magic.
Bosh is a big reason the Raptors won the Atlantic Division two years ago and finished second in 2007-08, but another strong season from the three-time All-Star hasn’t been enough to keep them near the top of the division.
Toronto, which lost 13 of its final 17 games of 2008, defeated Houston 94-73 on Friday, and is hoping to get things turned around in the New Year.
“We needed that,” said Bosh, averaging a career-high 23.5 points. “Everybody was thinking about the whole New Year thing and how to start off fresh, just get a change in momentum. That was a good win for us. We were overdue for it.”
The 6-foot-10 Bosh hasn’t been as big a force on the boards or defensively as Howard, the current leader in All-Star balloting. Howard was held to 18 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting this season but was dominant in the playoff series, averaging 22.6 points and 18.2 rebounds.
Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu is hoping to bounce back from an awful game, having scored seven points on a season-worst 1-of-14 shooting on Friday.
“That was sort of a nightmare night,” Van Gundy said.
Turkoglu was averaging 19.5 points on 51.9 percent shooting in his previous four games, and is averaging 24.6 points in his last five regular season games versus Toronto.
O’Neal has missed Toronto’s last two games with a sore right knee, while Calderon strained his right hamstring in the second quarter Friday. Calderon, who is averaging 8.7 assists, is listed as day-to-day.