The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Atlanta Hawks have a new head coach and a new philosophy on offense, but none it mattered.
Despite those subtle changes, the Orlando Magic were able to extend their pre-season winning streak to 20 games after defeating the Hawks by the score of 102-73. The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. The two individuals that stood out for Orlando were Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass. No, that is not a typo. Howard finished the game with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and one block while Bass had 17 points and eight rebounds. Perhaps one of the more interesting things to take away from the game was the attendance at Philips Arena. Atlanta drew a crowd of 7,571 people. To put that number in perspective, a crowd of 8,516 watched the Magic’s open practice on Sunday at the Amway Center.
I guess there’s better things to do in Hotlanta on a Monday night. In a sense, can’t blame the fans.
Let’s start things off with Howard.
Howard was dominant in the first quarter, offering supreme defense and deterring the Hawks from attacking the basket — a normal bugaboo for them in this particular matchup. Atlanta offered a different look offensively than what everyone has been accustomed to seeing under then-head coach Mike Woodson. Instead of a lot of isolation plays, the Hawks ran a considerable amount of pick and rolls and there was plenty of movement off-the-ball. It’s understandable to see that Atlanta is trying to adjust to a new scheme on offense, but some of the elements that head coach Larry Drew is trying to install is encouraging to see. There’s more diversity to the Hawks’ offense than seen before, so it’s only a matter of time before things start to click for them. That being said, Howard did his thing defensively and the rest of the roster for Orlando did not make it easy for Atlanta to score.
That was one of the main things to take away from this matchup — the Magic’s defense was stifling, holding the Hawks to a shooting percentage of 30.8 percent for the game.
As for Howard’s offense, well, that mid-range jumper showed up again. On one possession in the first quarter, Howard posted up in a 4-out/1-in offensive set and decided to face up his defender, which was Zaza Pachulia. After viewing the situation for a few seconds, Howard calmly put up a 13-foot jumpshot and banked it in. If someone was watching Howard play for the first time ever, they would have thought the mid-range jumper has been a part of Howard’s offensive repertoire for years. That’s how confident Howard looks right now when he pulls up for a mid-range shot. Yes, people are waiting to see if Howard can do this when the games “count” but rest assured, he’s going to try and try and try. It’s safe to say after six pre-season games that Howard has a semblance of a mid-range game. It’s a work in progress, but it’s there. It exists, even if there are those that continue to doubt its inclusion in Howard’s bag of tricks.
Another encouraging development for Orlando is Vince Carter‘s attacking nature.
Carter only had two free-throw attempts against Atlanta, which may suggest he was settling for jumpshots but that wasn’t the case at all. Carter made five shots against the Hawks and the beauty of his shot selection was that he took the most efficient shots on the court. Carter was able to make two three-pointers (one off a drive-and-kick pass from Jameer Nelson after he executed a 1/5 pick and roll with Howard; another in transition), two shots in the post, and a layup. Carter’s two field goals that came on the low block were fadeaways, but they were either in or near the painted area as Hubie Brown likes to say. Efficient. If Carter can continue this trend to the regular season, that bodes well for the Magic.
The main storyline in Orlando’s victory, however, was the play of the three power forwards on the roster — Rashard Lewis, Ryan Anderson, and Brandon Bass.
Bass was phenomenal tonight. There’s always that pesky pre-season disclaimer that needs to be brought up, but Bass easily had one of his best games in a Magic uniform. That’s saying something, actually, since Bass didn’t see a lot of playing time last season. The 14 shot attempts weren’t ideal, but no one could dismiss Bass’ energy level when he was on the floor. It was sky high. Bass checked into the game at the 6:11 mark in the first quarter and it didn’t take him too long to get his hands dirty. Bass was dunking, shooting, rebounding, and playing like a man-child against the Hawks.
There was a sequence in the second quarter that exemplified Bass’ impact.
[10:49] Bass makes layup (Gortat assist)
[10:49] Bass makes free throw 1 of 1
[10:26] Bass defensive rebound
[10:18] Gortat misses 4-foot two point shot
[10:17] Bass offensive rebound
[10:15] Bass makes free throw 1 of 2
[10:15] Bass makes free throw 2 of 2
[9:40] Bass defensive rebound
[9:21] Bass makes 18-foot jumpshot (Duhon assist)
Bass was everywhere.
Again, the only complaint is the amount of shots Bass took but that’s a minor quibble.
Ironically enough, Anderson wasn’t going to let Bass steal the show and in the third quarter, he made his presence felt. In a span of approximately three minutes with the period winding down, Anderson scored eight points — two of them were three-pointers. The first three-point shot was made in transition, and the other three-point shot was made off a 1/4 pick and pop with Nelson. Watching Anderson perform on offense was fascinating because he displayed traits that were completely opposite from Bass. Sure, Bass had more points and rebounds for the evening but Anderson displayed his potency on offense with just a couple of shots. When it comes down to it, that’s the narrative of the game. Anderson and Bass played well, and showed that they do things in different ways. For the sake of argument, it would have been interesting to see how many points Anderson would have been able to put up with the same amount of shots that Bass took.
There’s a good chance it would have been more than 17 points, but that’s neither here nor there.
As for Lewis, it’s great to see that head coach Stan Van Gundy is fully committed to playing him at both forward positions. In the second quarter, Lewis spent the entire time at small forward and that may become a regular occurrence once the season starts when factoring how Van Gundy will conduct his rotation. And considering that Anderson and Bass have been playing so well in the pre-season, it’ll be interesting to see how much time Lewis spends at the small forward position so that Van Gundy can give playing time to Anderson and Bass.
It was another win for Orlando, but an interesting one to say the least. Anderson and Bass continue to give Magic fans something to talk about.