AP Photo/Mark Duncan
Ask any Magic fan and he or she will probably tell you the same thing. The Orlando Magic have been in existence for 23 seasons and this has likely been the craziest season of them all.
We all know about “The Indecision.”
We all know about the ongoing saga between Dwight Howard and head coach Stan Van Gundy.
We all know about Ishsanity (I’m only half-kidding).
But one of the real kickers of this season for the Magic has been the slew of injuries the team has had to absorb. Nearly every player in Van Gundy’s rotation has missed games due to injury, with Dwight (herniated disk in lower back) and Hedo Turkoglu (facial fracture) the latest to join the injured list. That’s one of the reasons why Orlando has slid down to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference after being in line to clinch the No. 3 seed for most of the regular season. Players just keep getting hurt.
Which is why it feels like the Magic have practically become desensitized to injuries. Case and point. No more than seven minutes into Orlando’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Glen Davis hyperextended his right knee after trying to make an offensive rebound putback following a missed layup. Rather than get down and out that Davis got hurt, Daniel Orton filled in admirably for him in his absence and the Magic won handily against the Cavaliers.
Granted, with Cleveland missing Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao — their two best players — to injury, they played like nothing more than a glorified D-League team at times. So it wasn’t asking much from Orlando to beat the Cavaliers without Davis in addition to Dwight and Turkoglu.
That said, it was impressive that the Magic won a game that was never really close from the get-go without Dwight, Turkoglu, and Davis. And it was doubly impressive that Orton stepped up to the plate for Orlando and played well in the first game of his career playing extended minutes.
Before playing Cleveland, Orton had played only 45 minutes this season in spot duty and garbage time. Against the Cavaliers, however, Orton played in roughly 29 minutes — more than half of his season (and career) total.
So how did Orton look getting lengthy playing time against NBA-caliber competition?
Orton looked like he belonged. Perhaps more importantly, he looked comfortable on the court.
Remember that this is technically Orton’s rookie season, even though he was drafted last season, given that he spent all that time rehabbing from season-ending knee injury. But if you didn’t know that about Orton, you wouldn’t have thought he was a rookie out there against Cleveland.
It remains to be seen how good Orton will be, but he proved (albeit against lesser competition) that he can be a serviceable big man at the very least. He showed off his ability to be a pick-and-roll big man, both by setting screens and scoring on a layup on one possession or by drawing fouls on other possessions. His awareness on defense could improve, but the skills are there — he exhibited an uncanny ability to not only block shots but also use quick hands to accumulate steals. Lastly, his rebounding could have been better but the jury is still out on whether or not that is an actual deficiency in his skill-set.
Nevertheless, with all the talk about the Magic needing a back-up center, they may have found one in Orton.
Talk about a turn of events. Fitting for how the season has gone for Orlando.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
With the Cavaliers offering no resistance at the rim defensively, Nelson took advantage with a myriad of layups off the dribble. That helped fuel an efficient performance on offense from Nelson (21 points on 8-for-14 shooting from he floor).
With a win against Cleveland, despite no Dwight, no Turkoglu, and Davis leaving the game early due to injury (hyperextended right knee), the Magic clinched a playoff spot in the East.
Speaking of Davis, his injury forced rarely-used Orton to fill in for him at center. Playing extended minutes for the first time in his career, Orton did some nice things (11 points, four rebounds, five steals, and three blocks).