Looking for a challenge from the opposition so that head coach Stan Van Gundy could finally play his starters extended minutes in the pre-season, the Orlando Magic got what they wanted — sort of — against the Dallas Mavericks as they won their 20th consecutive pre-season game by the score of 101-76 in the final exhibition game at the Amway Center before the regular season home opener next week. The Magic were led by dominating performances from Dwight Howard and Vince Carter, as they had 20 points each. Howard also had 13 rebounds and four blocks. Despite not scoring much, Jameer Nelson chipped in with 10 assists and five rebounds. As the numbers show, it was another lopsided victory for Orlando.
What else is new?
The Mavericks did put up a fight in the first half, trailing by two points at halftime. A big reason for that was because the Magic’s second unit got killed in the second quarter against the 5-man combination of J.J. Barea, Dominique Jones, Caron Butler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tyson Chandler. Dallas put on a clinic offensively, running a lot of pick and pops for Nowitzki, pick and rolls for Chandler, backdoor screens for the wing players, and more. It was just beautiful to watch. Likewise, until the starters for Orlando checked into the game at the 4:37 minute mark in the period, the reserves were struggling to create for themselves on offense. That was a big reason for Dallas’ 16-2 run and six point lead in the quarter.
But the Mavericks’ success was short-lived, as the Magic were able to regain the lead heading into the second half. From there, Orlando clamped down defensively, holding Dallas to 11 points in the third quarter and putting the game away with relative ease.
Perhaps the main thing to take away from the Magic’s victory was the exquisite play of Howard and Carter. Both of them were magnificent against the Mavericks, particularly on offense.
For Howard, things came easy for him offensively. Howard’s teammates, whether it was Nelson, Carter, or whoever else, did an excellent job of setting him up for a plethora of dunks. Yes, Howard used his patented lefty hook on one possession in the low post against Chandler with the second quarter winding down. But this was one of those nights where Howard didn’t need to go deep into his bag of tricks to score against Brendan Haywood and Chandler.
And defensively, Howard was everywhere.
Van Gundy has utilized a new strategy with Orlando’s defense and it was on display many times last night. In short, whenever the Mavericks had the basketball along the baseline, Howard would quickly flash to someone, like Nowitzki for example, and double-team him. This is new for the Magic defensively, and it’s a technique that’s been working remarkably well. Because Howard is so quick and athletic, it’s easy for him to recover to his man. Also, Orlando has done a great job on their defensive rotations to prevent any open looks on the perimeter when the ball gets kicked out.
Last season, it took a while for the Magic’s defense to round to form because there were a lot of new faces on the roster. This year, with just Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon as the newcomers in the rotation, Orlando looks phenomenal defensively. It’s early, but the Magic have a real good chance to lead the NBA in defensive efficiency during the regular season.
Certainly the Boston Celtics will have something to say about that, though.
For Carter, it’s hard to remember the last time he was so locked in offensively. At least in his time with Orlando, the answer is never. Whenever Carter has put up a shot in the pre-season, you almost assume it’s going in. Carter’s shot is pure right now. The hope, of course, is that Carter can perform like this in the regular season and playoffs, because right now it’s nothing more than a tease to Magic fans. The way Carter is playing right now, with a perfect blend of aggressiveness and efficiency, is what Orlando needs from their primary wing option. Nevertheless, credit needs to be give to Nelson because he’s doing a fantastic job of setting Carter up on the perimeter. It’s clear that Nelson almost intuitively knows where Carter is on the court, and that’s a testament to the synergy that’s been established on the court between them. That being said, Carter should also be given kudos for showing an increased willingness to attack the basket and post up on the low block.
Right now, not only is Howard playing like an All-Star but so is Carter.
Lets see if this trend carries over to the regular season.