Kicking off life after the All-Star break, the Sacramento Kings were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 111-105. Despite not having Tyreke Evans due to an injury and newly-acquired Marcus Thornton still in the process of making his debut with the Kings after being dealt for Carl Landry, while playing a road game on a back-to-back, the visitors won. A team with a record of 14-40 entering the night and, on paper, having no business winning a game against — supposedly — one of the better teams in the NBA, well, did just that. Win. Right now, the Magic should be embarrassed because even though anything can happen on a given night in the league, these are the games they’re supposed to come away victorious. It’s as simple as that, yet Orlando is incapable of doing the right things to win games and make chase to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference for the No. 3 seed. If the Magic’s victory against the Los Angeles Lakers was the best of the season, this loss is the worst. Sacramento was led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. But the two players that sparked the win for the Kings were Beno Udrih and Jermaine Taylor (former University of Central Florida star). Urdih played superbly, finishing with 18 points, 10 assists, and three steals. Taylor played well in front of his hometown, chipping in with 21 points and five rebounds. As for Orlando, Dwight Howard did his job and finished with 31 points, 17 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Even though players like Hedo Turkoglu played well statistically (19 points on 7-of-10 shooting with eight assists and two steals), Howard was the only player for the Magic that gave a crap on both ends of the floor.
Make no mistake. The Kings deserved the victory, playing with excellent energy and effort throughout the evening. Sure, Sacramento gave up a lot of buckets but even when they were down by as many 12 points in the third quarter, they never gave up and chipped away at the lead when Orlando put their guard down momentarily, thinking the game was over. It’s cliche, but the Kings wanted it more and the Magic were happy to give them what they wanted.
Orlando’s defense? Non-existent.
In the early stages of the game, Taylor was able to get off to a quick start for Sacramento, as Jason Richardson routinely lost track of him defensively. Taylor kicked things off with a spectacular dunk off a beautiful pass from DeMarcus Cousins at the high post — a classic Princeton offense set. A few minutes later, Taylor was able to get a layup and that’s when head coach Stan Van Gundy called a timeout, having to berate some of his players.
The sad part is that Van Gundy had to do the same thing after halftime, despite the fact that the Magic coaching staff emphasized in the locker room that they were giving up too easy looks at the basket, especially on back-door cuts for layups or dunks. Yet as the third quarter got underway, the Kings — on three straight possessions — were able to get in the paint with relative ease. Another Van Gundy timeout. Except this time, Howard didn’t mince words with his teammates.
It seemed as if order slowly was being restored, as Orlando was able to build a 12-point lead later in the period. But the Magic didn’t finish the job. Sacramento hung around and was able to put together an excellent fourth quarter.
And that was that.
Orlando has a lot of problems but the main thing that stands out is that there’s little-to-no desire defensively. Howard is the anchor and he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure that the Magic’s defense is running on a string but when players like Jameer Nelson are routinely getting burned on the perimeter, it’s tough to erase those mistakes consistently. When general manager Otis Smith made the decision to make those two blockbuster trades, it was clear that Orlando was going to suffer defensively. However, this is ridiculous.
Even though it’s not fair to assume anything until the Magic reach the playoffs, if they keep playing like this, they’ll be lucky to escape the first round.
If there’s an explanation needed for Orlando’s precipitous slide during the regular season, even after the deals were consummated, it’s this.
Nelson has regressed.
The collective impacts of Turkoglu, Richardson, and Arenas have been minimal.
Although Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson have been able to emerge with the departure of Rashard Lewis as they’ve gotten consistent playing time, there have been too many negative factors that have undermined their contributions.
As for Howard, the Magic are wasting away the best basketball that’s being played in his career.