On the Magic:
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The Bucks and Magic have been heading in opposite directions in the standings, but Stan Van Gundy's men will again be severely short-handed 24 hours after winning in Detroit without Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrus.
Howard ailing, Bogut returning. A week ago it wouldn't have surprised anyone to hear that one of the starting centers in tonight's game was going to be absent. Afterall, Andrew Bogut was on the shelf with a back injury of indeterminate severity, and those of us in Buck Nation were already preparing for the worst (hey, that's how many of us get through the day). The opposite was true in Orlando, where Dwight Howard has generally been a picture of health, missing just three games in his first six NBA seasons (and I don't think he was even injured for any of them). He's also been his usual picture of dominance so far this season, rebounding (12.0 rpg) and blocking shots (2.4 bpg) at prodigious rates while upping his scoring to a career-high 21.7 ppg, albeit on some lower efficiencies than we're used to seeing (54.2% from the foul line, and "just" 58.5% from the field).
Which makes it somewhat surprising that it's gameday and Bogut is on the mend while Howard and starting SF Mickael Pietrus are in Florida [Update: Victor in the comments noted that Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick have also flown home] . The pair flew home ahead of last night's shorthanded win in Detroit to shake off a nasty stomach virus that has decimated the Magic roster over the past few days. In contrast, Bogut and Corey Maggette both practiced Friday, with the Aussie expected to start his first game since tweaking his back against Oklahoma City a couple weeks back. Charles Gardner reports that Bogut's back is still an occasional issue despite making it through last season without any major incidents:
"It feels good to be out on the court," Bogut said. "People might say I'm injury-prone. The only injury that is (termed) injury-prone is my back. Last year you really couldn't control with the elbow.
"When I did it (hurt his back in 2009) they told me it's going to hinder me for the best of my career and there might be a week where it's really bad. You've just got to keep working through it. You ask anybody with back problems and they have good days and bad days.
Though he played 10 minutes in Denver, Drew Gooden again missed practiced on Friday with plantar fasciitis, so I've got Ersan Ilyasova again listed in the starting lineup for now.
No players, no problem for Magic. Aside from Howard and Pietrus, the Magic also missed starting PG Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick due to illness last night in Detroit, though it sounds like there's at least a chance they will be able to play tonight. But in spite of missing 60% of their starters and losing Ryan Anderson to a sprained foot less than a minute into the game, the Magic still cruised to a 104-90 win over the Pistons thanks in large part to a career-high 27 from Brandon Bass and 25 from Vince Carter. The Magic have now won seven straight and are making a strong case for being the best team in the NBA, but the Bucks now have a golden opportunity to steal one with Stan Van Gundy's crew severely shorthanded.
The Polish Hammer! In a league where stiffs like the Collins twins have started hundreds of games apiece, you'd have a hard time finding a better big man who has had to bide his time more than Marcin Gortat. His start last night in Detroit was his first since April 2009, when he started three games for the Magic with Dwight Howard sitting out three games down the stretch. One of those was a 10 point, 18 rebound night in a 98-80 loss in Milwaukee on April 13, when Van Gundy opted to field an all-reserve lineup ahead of the playoffs. Gortat also dropped a double-double against the Bucks in a win the prior month in Orlando, which means two of his six career double-doubles have come against the Bucks. In case you're wondering, Bogut missed both games.
Sanders' breakthrough? The Bogut-less Bucks looked severely undersized against the Jazz and Nuggets, which no doubt played a role in John Hammond's decision to cut loose Darington Hobson and re-sign Brian Skinner on Thursday. It's not exactly clear how that move along with Bogut's return will impact Larry Sanders' playing time, but let's hope Scott Skiles finds a way to keep Sanders in the regular rotation. A game after looking utterly terrible against the Jazz, Sanders established a slew of career highs with 14 points, 10 boards and an NBA season-high-tying eight blocks.
The fact that Nene scored 28 points on 8/9 fgs shows that shot-blocking and post defense can be fairly uncorrelated, but Sanders should improve significantly in the latter department as he strengthens his lower body and cuts down on his tendency to go for pump fakes. And it's also possible Sanders eventually becomes Bogut's complement up front, which Gery Woelfel writes is something Bogut wouldn't mind giving a try.
"It's a hell of a defensive lineup,'' Bogut said. "Larry is still learning; his on-the-ball defense is improving. But his help defense is great and so is mine.
"So you can have two guys down there (on the block) who can rebound and block shots. Hopefully, we'll play some more minutes together.''
It's definitely a promising idea, though he'll have to sell Scott Skiles on it first. Skiles has mostly used Sanders at center so far, which means Bogut and Sanders have yet to share the court for even a second all season (h/t Basketball Value). [Update: Per Alex, Sanders will start tonight at PF next to Bogut]