Recap: Orlando Magic 97, Houston Rockets 88 | Magic Basketball

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Oct 05

Recap: Orlando Magic 97, Houston Rockets 88

AP Photo/Delcia Lopez

BOX SCORE

Can you smell it?

Do you feel it?

The NBA is back in business after a full slate of pre-season games, headlined by the SuperFriends, were completed earlier tonight.

And for the Orlando Magic, their quest towards a championship began at a little-known city in Texas named Hidalgo. So far, so good, as the Magic were able to defeat the Houston Rockets by the score of 97-88. Dwight Howard led the way for Orlando with a dominating performance, finishing the game with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks. Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis chipped in with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Courtney Lee, a former rookie for the Magic, had 12 points for the Rockets in a losing effort.

There’s a few things that stood out from this matchup.

First, even though it was a pre-season game and sometimes he faced off against a Yao Ming that is not in tip-top form, Howard looked awesome. In the first quarter, Orlando ran a lot of 4-out/1-in offensive sets for Howard to establish his presence in the low post. Needless to say, watching Howard go to work on the low block was a beauty to behold. Howard showed no hesitation with his moves and it created fluid, captivating sequences on offense that left Magic fans drooling. On one possession, Howard executed a spin move on Yao and finished with a righty hook shot. On the very next possession, Howard jab-stepped Yao and made a bank shot that would make Tim Duncan proud. A few minutes later, Howard made another jumper.

But Howard’s highlight of the night was when he faced up Yao on the left block and made a reverse layup after making a decisive choice to go baseline. Howard drew a foul on the play and missed the free-throw, but the most impressive thing from that sequence was that Howard immediately engaged in a move. On a lesser but important note, whenever Howard was matched up against Yao offensively, he made a concerted effort to use his finesse rather than his strength to score. This is the type of maturity that Howard displayed against Kendrick Perkins in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals versus the Boston Celtics. For so long, Howard would try to bulldoze his way against the likes of Yao and Perkins in the post, but now he’s learning to make consistent use of his über-athleticism. It’s working.

Oh, and Howard’s footwork? It’s much improved.

It’s one game but if Howard is able to display this type of versatility on offense with no fear of failure (Hakeem Olajuwon has taught Howard to push past that barrier), the rest of the league had better watch out.

Second, as promised, Lewis spent a lot of time at small forward and the results were a mixed bag. There’s no question that Lewis can score at the small forward position, as he was able to do in the second quarter when he put up seven points in a four-minute stretch while at that spot. During that timeframe, Lewis was able to nail a fadeaway jumper against Chase Budinger, make a three-pointer in the corner, and connect on a layup after schooling Shane Battier in the post by executing a reverse pivot. Lewis is a gifted player on the low block and this is not a new revelation.

But Lewis had trouble defending the likes of Budinger and Battier at small forward, given that they’re quicker than him on the perimeter. That’s the reality of the situation and it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Stan Van Gundy deals with Lewis’ lack of lateral quickness. Does Van Gundy bite the bullet? It might come down to whether or not Lewis and Ryan Anderson or Brandon Bass produce a net gain when they’re at the forward positions. Lewis had a chance to play alongside Anderson and Bass, and the arrangement worked out okay with both players. For Bass in particular, his defense is a work in progress but it’s getting better. Nevertheless, Lewis got plenty of chances to exploit his advantages in the low post and did well.

Lewis has to play at the small forward position, but there are kinks to work out.

Third and lastly, one thing that was noticeable from the Magic was that they posted up a lot on offense. This is not bad, mind you. It was weird, but refreshing. Orlando still attempted 28 three-pointers in the game (made eight of them) so it wasn’t like they abandoned their offensive identity, but it was a pleasant surprise to see not only Howard post up but Quentin Richardson, Lewis, Carter, and Bass join in on the fun. Each player took their turns with their backs to the basket more than once and had success. Richardson, in particular, is the new kid on the block so some people may not know this but he’s adept at posting up because of his ability to use his strength — like Carter — to score on smaller perimeter players. Again, it’s one game but that was an interesting to see against Houston.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Magic will post up as much as they did against the Rockets, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea as long as there are favorable matchups on the court. It’s been stated many times in the past but Lewis’ and Carter’s ability to execute on the low block is something that needs to be featured more in Orlando’s offense. Lewis, in particular, has been underutilized at times and it’s puzzling because he has an unusual height advantage at 6’10” and can shoot over anyone that is guarding him. Maybe this year will be different.

Oh, and it’s worth noting that Carter looked noticeably quicker on his feet. There’s been talk that Carter trimmed some body fat to improve his conditioning and it was clear when he was on the floor that he’s looking spry, especially on defense.

That is all.

For the Magic, it’s on to the next one.

11 comments
Mikeyho
Mikeyho

@Eddy Rivera

Good. I'm glad you think so. That would obviously help the Magic tremendously.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Andrew Gabriel

Yeah, I didn't mention Anderson more so because he didn't post up as often as the other players. Nevertheless, I agree with your suggestion that Anderson should see a little more time on the floor than Bass, simply because he's the more potent player offensively.

@Adam Greene

Duhon's defense is going to be an asset for the Magic, that's for sure.

@Billy (slickw143)

Agreed. The fact that we're even having these discussions is encouraging, because it means that basketball is back on the radar screen.

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

@hulKK
Decaf, dude. Decaf.

I was thoroughly impressed with Dwight in the first half, as was everyone. Nothing realy to add there. Vince looked better physically and mentally to me. Played good D (great, great strip of Martin on the fast break), and I felt the team overall played pretty smoothly for the 1st pre-season game. Obviously, we'll have to see how that carries on from here, but it was just fun watching basketball again.

Adam Greene
Adam Greene

hulKK :

OMG!!! What more do you want from Chris Duhon????? Ppl are still caling him out and bashing him?? He played good last night. I didn’t see anything bad. If anything he did something we haven’t seen done in a while and that’s play tough defense & run the half court offense good. Everybody’s an expert. Would CJ Watson, Steve Blake or even Jason Williams done a significantly better job????? What’s with these Orlando Magic fans??? GEeeezzzz!!! The same lame fans who BOO’ED me for cheering TOO much at a Laker VS Magic game! IN ORLANDO! MY HOMETOWN! WTF!?!?! I need to change teams.
Anyway, did anybody notice how FAT Dwayne Wade looked? And how SKINNY Lebron looked?? Don’t think they’ve been in the gym this off-season. Even Chris Bosh looked a lil Skinnier then usual. “Mark my words” ^^^^ Their conditioning will come into play late in the playoffs.  hulKK

I don't think Duhon played bad, and I qualified it by saying that it is only preseason game 1, but his shot selection was poor. He made a nice layup, which was not his strength in NY, and the long 2 he made was money. I feel like he was rushing his shots and I will bet it has more to do with his being in the process of learning how the Magic play. I like Duhon as a player and if he regains the defensive abilities he had when he played for Skiles, we will be set at the back up PG. Jason Williams would have done a better job by virtue of having been in the Magic system (offensively and defensively) for a year. I suspect if Blake or Watson played for us instead of Duhon, I would have leveled similar criticism at them.

Andrew Gabriel
Andrew Gabriel

Don't forget Anderson as one of the post threats. We all know he can shoot and rebound, but he showed a little more variety in his game last night. He put a nice post move on his man (can't remember if it was Scola or Hill) to draw the foul and sink two shots. But I was more impressed when he put the ball on the floor and found Gortat for the open layup.

I'm really hoping for more PT for Ryan this year, because I think his contributions are more valuable over longer periods of time, say around 20-22 minutes. Whereas Bass's "energy" type plays are more suited for quick spurts, about 15 minutes.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Mikeyho

It'll be different this year, trust me.

I've been preaching this for months, but I really believe that this is the season that Howard becomes a complete player.

@Adam Greene

That's a great observation about Howard on offense and something I've noticed, as well. When Howard was executing his moves offensively, everything was fluid. Even when he was taking his mid-range jumper, there was no hesitation from Howard. In times past, like you said, it seemed like Howard would take a few jumpers for the sake of experimentation. That wasn't the case last night.

@Jonathan

No, because that means either Anderson or Bass is responsible for defending the opposing small forward and that's not going to work.

hulKK
hulKK

OMG! What more do you want from Chris Duhon? Ppl are still caling him out and bashing him? He played good last night. I didn't see anything bad. If anything he did something we haven't seen done in a while and that's play tough defense & run the half court offense good. Everybody's an expert. Would CJ Watson, Steve Blake or even Jason Williams done a significantly better job? What's with these Orlando Magic fans? Geeeezzzz! The same lame fans who BOO'ED me for cheering TOO much at a Laker VS Magic game! IN ORLANDO! MY HOMETOWN! WTF!? I need to change teams.

Anyway, did anybody notice how FAT Dwayne Wade looked? And how SKINNY LeBron looked? Don't think they've been in the gym this off-season. Even Chris Bosh looked a lil Skinnier then usual. "Mark my words" ^^^ Their conditioning will come into play late in the playoffs.

Jonathan
Jonathan

I'm sure there is a reason, but unless it's a fast break, why does Lewis have to guard the SF position just because he plays it offensively?

If he can switch between PF and SF between lineup changes, than why not switch between plays? Obviously this wouldn't work when the opponent goes for a fast break, but can't we have him take SF court positions and plays on offense but switch to defending the PF or the best match-up on the opposing team when we move to the other side of the court?

Adam Greene
Adam Greene

While I was watching a poor quality stream of the game, I came away with some interesting impressions of the new Magic. Dwight Howard appeared dominant as usual. The two early blocks, and his activity defensively looked like the typical Howard; the best defensive player in the league. Offensively I was struck by his apparent comfort level. We have seen him shoot the 17' bank shot and use spin moves, but to my eye he was more in flow when he took the jumpers. Maybe I'm projecting, but in previous games that shot has seemed like he was experimenting, and here he seemed incorporate it into his game. It worked beautifully against an even slower Yao. Fingers crossed, it is a sign of things to come.

Lewis was so good offensively at the 3 that you almost forgot that he couldn't hang with Budinger defensively. Almost. The fact is, against almost every SF in the league, Rashard will have an advantage when they have to guard him. The entire team looked to lose concentration on defense after the first quarter. I know it is a preseason game, so I take it with a grain of salt, but you're observations of Rashard as a defending 3 were spot on.

Not a lot of ink for Duhon's performance. I thought that he was taking bad shots. Even one of the shots he made was a long 2 after a pump fake. Brooks (could have been Lowry, the video quality was poor) dusted Duhon in the second half. That can't happen. I remain optimistic about his work as the back up PG though.

Richardson's 7 rebounds was great. If he fills that role, like Barnes did last year, he will make a lot of fans in Orlando. However, he spent a lot of time asking for the ball in the post, and the shot he made from the block was well defended. I see that posting players was a point of emphasis for at least that game, but how many times are we going to run our offense through Quentin Richardson this season? Hopefully not as much as we did in this game.

Overall it was great to see the team playing again. I'm bursting at the seams for the real season to start. Go Magic!

Mikeyho
Mikeyho

More time for Lewis, Gortat, and Howard will hopefully bring more comfortable results. It's pretty good so far is such limited time. If they get more comfortable over time Orlando could be real hard to beat.

Howard, unfortunately, has shown flashes of offensive post development each of the past two seasons only to go right back to his old habits in the season after some negative consequences. Let's hope this new seasons proves differently. Regardless, Dwight's defense needs to be praised nightly so we can remember how dominate he actually is.