Orlando Magic vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
8 PM ET, Chesapeake Energy Arena
7. Jason Richardson vs. James Harden
Maybe J-Rich didn’t get an offer that he liked from a real contender, but I thought he should’ve taken a pay cut and joined the Bulls – I guess he means a lot to Otis Smith to re-sign him to a four-year, $25 million deal. He is primarily a spot-up shooter nowadays and only averaged a measly 10 points on a poor 33 percent from the field during the playoffs (It wasn’t any better from three-point land at 32 percent.). Nevertheless, if Smith is banking on J-Rich to somehow transform back to his high-flying days with the Warriors in order to convince Dwight to stay long-term… it is not happening.
Whether he is coming off the bench or starting, it is a moot point because James Harden will receive starter minutes anyways and be playing most of the fourth quarters. Dime has ranked him third among players and teams primed to breakout this season in current issue #66, and Harden is about to show the basketball universe what he has been doing all summer long. He’s on the cusp of belonging among the top 10 shooting guards in the league, if not the top five. The way he controls the game and seemingly knows what’s the best option offensively had people questioning whether he should play the point during crunch time instead of Westbrook in last year’s playoffs. Harden is bound to blow up to the national scene and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a nod by the coaches to play in the All-Star Game.
8. Big Baby Davis vs. Serge Ibaka
Otis Smith apparently likes to dole out money as if he is makin’ it rain in the club. The Cs had zero interest in signing Big Baby to an extension, let alone to the tune of four years and $26 million. I am not sure how much Davis’ play could help convince D12 to stay (the two are great friends), but adding him to the mix in Orlando should give them another big besides Ryan Anderson that could knock down a 15-footer. The fact that he likes to actively take charges could be a nice compliment next to Dwight on the defensive end. However, pretty soon Magic fans may hope he isn’t the only jovial big guy they have to cheer for.
Serge Ibaka led the league in total blocks last season with 198 and finished third in per game blocks at 2.42. His ceiling is extremely high as he has progressed nicely in first couple of seasons. He is expected to take his game to greater heights this season. While Ibaka’s defensive is already solid, he now needs his offense to exponentially develop to the point that he is a threat on the block next to Perkins rather than just a shot-blocking presence. If the Thunder have one area to seriously address this season in order to reach The Finals, it is reliable scoring in the paint. Ibaka must now take it upon himself and become an elite two-way player.