Photo by Fernando Medina
Welcome to the Amway Center. Again.
In front of a nationally televised audience, the Orlando Magic christened their regular season home opener by defeating the Washington Wizards by the score of 112-83. For the Magic, they tied the largest margin of victory for a home opener in franchise history. And to be frank, this game was over when Orlando was up by as much as 18 points in the first quarter. The Magic were led by their four All-Stars, all with standout performances to varying degrees. Dwight Howard finished the game with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, while Vince Carter had 18 points and five rebounds, Jameer Nelson had 16 points and six assists, and Rashard Lewis had 13 points and seven rebounds. Each of them played efficient basketball, and the chemistry between the quartet has never looked better. Highly touted rookie John Wall struggled at times in his NBA debut, finishing with 14 points on 6-of-19 shooting, nine assists, and three steals. Give credit to Wall for playing hard the entire time he was on the court, despite the lopsided score.
A lot of kudos should be given to Orlando for emphatically beating an inferior opponent. However, the Wizards made things too easy for the Magic by offering little resistance in terms of interior defense. According to Hoopdata, Orlando shot 18-of-21 at the rim and 10-for-15 inside 10 feet. Add to the fact that the Magic were able to get to the free-throw line a total of 32 times, and it’s easy to see why this game was barely competitive after the opening tip.
Those numbers are absurd.
But again, Orlando took care of business.
In the first quarter, it was all Lewis.
[11:06] Lewis makes layup (Nelson assist)
[5:35] Lewis makes layup
[5:18] Lewis dunk (Nelson assist)
[2:10] Lewis makes 10-foot jumpshot (Bass assist)
Notice a pattern there? All of Lewis’ points came in the painted area. For those that follow basketball closely, Lewis has the reputation for being a perimeter-oriented player so for him to get easy baskets says all you need to know about Washington’s defense. It was atrocious. The scary part is that it could have been worse. Lewis had two three-point attempts in the opening minutes of the game, in which he was left wide open on both fast break opportunities.
Lewis did see some time at small forward in the first half, and nothing really stood out when he was at the position.
As for Carter, talk about a man on a mission. Again, the Wizards’ defense (or lack thereof) should be taken into account but Carter carried over his aggressive play from the preseason and attacked the basket at will offensively. When Carter wasn’t busy doing that, he was draining threes in transition and even making a shot from the low post for good measure. Carter looks awesome right now. It’s one game, it’s Washington, but it’s hard not to get encouraged by Carter’s playing style. Carter is displaying the same sort of efficiency he showed off in the second half of the regular season last year. 18 points on 12 shots? Perfect.
Nelson started slow but he picked things up on offense in the second and third quarters, where he did a majority of his scoring. Nelson did some of his damage in the 1/5 pick and roll with Howard, in which the Wizards sagged off of him way too much defensively and allowed him to dribble penetrate with ease. Like any good player, Nelson took what the defense gave him and by the end of the night, he had himself an efficient outing. It should also be noted that Nelson definitely looks like a player that is fully healthy right now and it shows, because the subtle explosiveness he displays off-the-dribble is back to the way it was when he was an All-Star in 2009.
The player of the game, however, was Howard.
Until the second half started, it didn’t look like that was going to be the case. The Magic’s perimeter players picked up much of the scoring slack in the first half but as is always the case since head coach Stan Van Gundy has been around, Howard really got involved on offense in the third quarter.
[8:23] Howard dunk (Nelson assist)
[5:26] Howard makes 4-foot hook shot
[3:18] Howard makes 7-foot two point shot (Richardson assist)
[3:18] Howard makes free throw 1 of 1
[2:44] Howard makes free throw 2 of 2
[2:11] Howard makes 5-foot hook shot
[1:50] Howard makes free throw 1 of 2
[1:50] Howard makes free throw 2 of 2
[1:20] Howard makes 17-foot two point shot
Had Howard made more of his free-throws, he probably would have dropped 30 points.
All night long, Howard got deep post position against the Washington’s frontline and the degree of difficulty for him to score was low. As noted in the play-by-play data, Howard attempted a mid-range jumper and made it — much to the delight of the home crowd that implored him to take another jumpshot on the ensuing possession. Unfortunately for the fans, Howard did not do so.
Enough talk about Orlando’s offense because the defense needs to get some well-deserved pub. Folks, the Magic are going to defend like mad this season. That much is clear. With only two new players in the rotation, the continuity that’s been established has really aided on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, the Wizards took a lot of poor shots and sharpshooting is something that is desperately lacking on their roster. Nevertheless, Orlando made things a living hell for Washington on offense. Wall, someone that is going to be a fantastic young talent in the league sooner rather than later, got a heavy dose of what it’s like to go up against Howard when attacking the rim. Late in the second quarter on two separate possessions, Wall went to go up for a layup but was denied by Howard on both tries.
Needless to say, Wall didn’t go up against that type of resistance in college.
As long as Howard stays healthy, there’s no reason why he can’t three-peat as the Defensive Player of the Year. It’s a shame that quantifying defense continues to be a struggle because Howard’s impact on that end of the floor is enormous.
Ultimately, the thing to take away from the Magic’s victory is that none of the starters played more than 30 minutes, which means that they should be well-rested for tomorrow’s rumble in the jungle against the Miami Heat. As such, concerns for Orlando playing on a back-to-back were somewhat alleviated.
More or less, the Wizards were a good warmup for the Magic.
Tomorrow, things get serious.