Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images
In a span of seven days, the Orlando Magic have played the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, and San Antonio Spurs, with tonight’s matchup against the Spurs ending a four-game stretch for the Magic that has revealed a lot about the team. More on that in a second.
If it wasn’t for Tony Parker going bananas in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his 31 points in the period in every way imaginable, Orlando stood a good chance at beating San Antonio and — somewhat improbably — sweeping the toughest portion of their schedule so far in the regular season.
Alas, after going scoreless in the third quarter, Parker came alive in a big way against the Magic in the final period, making big shot after big shot as Orlando tried to keep pace with the Spurs. A layup on a one man fast break, a baseline jumper in a pick-and-roll set, a corner three while spotting up on the perimeter and with the shot clock winding down, Parker did it all for San Antonio which has been the book on him all season long.
Even though the Magic played extremely well for long stretches of the game, not so much on defense but particularly on offense, the Spurs — as exemplified by Parker — were better.
So have these seven days meant? What do we know about Orlando now that we didn’t know before?
Well, and this goes back to the Magic’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 1, it’s that Orlando can hang with any team in the NBA with their current squad. But the key is that Dwight Howard has to play like the best player on the floor on the nights when the Magic play the Heat, or Bulls, or whoever. Getting Jameer Nelson to play at a high level is preferable but not a prerequisite. Not with guys like Ryan Anderson being able to pick up the slack. And even though the bench has its flaws, they’re not fatal. Plus the slow emergence of DeAndre Liggins as a rotation-quality player gives head coach Stan Van Gundy another piece to play with.
It starts and ends with Dwight, though. When he’s the best player on the floor against the championship contenders in the league, Orlando wins. When he’s not, as was the case against San Antonio, the Magic lose.
Magic fans like use the 2009 team as a barometer for this season’s roster. To be frank, Orlando this season isn’t too far off from being as good as the team that went to the NBA Finals. The problem is primarily the defense and the quality of the bench. Oh, and Dwight sticking around past the trade deadline.
If Dwight does remain with the Magic past March 15, then the answer is clear. Orlando will be a thorn on the side of the elite teams in the NBA.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
On a night where the stars played like stars, Tony Parker shone the brightest. He was a monster all night long against Orlando, but made his presence felt the most in the fourth quarter.
With the Spurs up by the score of 101-98 with 6:18 left in the game, Parker went on an 8-2 run of his own in two minutes to put the game out of reach for the Magic.
That Was … Dwight’s Last Game?
On a day where Dwight flip-flopped in a span of a few hours on his desire to stay with Orlando for one more season or opt out in the offseason, tonight could very well have been his farewell.