OKLAHOMA CITY — The Orlando Magic’s defense hasn’t faced a test like this all season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have the NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant. The Thunder have the league’s most athletic, most explosive point guard, Russell Westbrook. And the Thunder have the league’s most efficient offense, an offense that averages 110.6 points per 100 possessions.
Rookie small forward Maurice Harkless almost certainly will begin the game guarding Durant, who, at 6 feet 9, can score from the perimeter and off the dribble with equal skill. Durant also generates fouls at a high rate, averaging 9.3 free-throw attempts per game.
“It’s going to be tough,” Harkless said after the Magic finished their shootaround at Chesapeake Energy Arena a short while ago.
“Tonight, we play against one of the best players in the world. He’s a tough player to guard, but I’ve just got to go in there and just do my best to limit his opportunities to score.”
This will be a difficult road trip for Harkless.
On Sunday, he could match up against the Milwaukee Bucks’ Monta Ellis or J.J. Redick when the Bucks employ a three-guard lineup.
On Tuesday, he’ll likely defend Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George.
On Wednesday, he’ll probably guard New York Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
The Magic will enter tonight’s game 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents 106.5 points per 100 possessions.
It will be critical for Orlando to try to avoid turnovers tonight in order to prevent Oklahoma City’s ultra-athletic lineup from generating easy baskets.
The Thunder have scored 17.7 percent of their points off turnovers this season. It helps that their players are able to switch on pick-and-rolls and that power forward Serge Ibaka is able to guard players at multiple positions.
“Defensively, they really make you change sides of the floor,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “If you don’t, then you get stuck on one side and then you play against that length. Then they force turnovers because of the length and the athleticism.”
Josh Robbins covers the Orlando Magic and the NBA for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via e-mail at email@example.com and connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/JoshuaBRobbins. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.