AP Photo/Reinhold Matay
Of course I saw a 2-0 start for the Magic coming. Who wouldn’t have?
The first half couldn’t have gone much worse, which was to be expected. With Jameer Nelson (strained groin) and Hedo Turkoglu (broken hand) sidelined, the Magic had two first-time NBA starters in their lineup in E’Twaun Moore and undrafted rookie DeQuan Jones. The defense had no answer for Luis Scola, who went to work early and got pretty much anything he wanted in the paint. Glen Davis started jacking up shots from the top of the key. The Suns forced turnover after turnover. Besides J.J. Redick’s 15 first-half points, Orlando got almost nothing from their bench, which isn’t surprising with two of their starters out of action. It was a miracle they only went into halftime down 10.
The second half was a completely different story. Big Baby had a much more efficient half on both ends of the floor. Moore and Arron Afflalo lit it up from three-point range to start the half. Gustavo Ayon (in his Magic debut) and Nikola Vucevic made key defensive contributions. Andrew Nicholson capably spelled Davis for about six minutes in the third quarter. Even Josh McRoberts was aggressive in the paint on offense and pulled down seven rebounds.
DeQuan Jones getting his first NBA start after improbably making the team out of training camp seemed to be the most compelling storyline coming into the game, but he only played 16 minutes and didn’t play a role in the Magic’s second-half run. However, even though the box score won’t show it, he did display a nice defensive effort against Michael Beasley, with a block and a ball knocked off Beasley’s foot to force a turnover. Even if he doesn’t stay in the starting lineup, he at least showed enough to stay in Jacque Vaughn’s rotation.
E’Twaun Moore, the other newcomer to the starting lineup, played very well, knocking down shots and picking up five assists. Once Nelson is back, Moore will have firmly established himself as a viable back-up point guard option.
The Magic aren’t going to win these types of games very often this season — the talent level is just too low for this to be sustainable. But the play of the Magic was exactly what fans should want out of a rebuilding team: a total team effort in which the young players visibly got better as the game progressed. At the very least, this team is going to be fun to watch.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Redick scored 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting off the bench. Of the nine makes, only three of them were from three-point range. He scored inside as well as from midrange just as confidently and dished out six assists.
Big Baby had a horrible first half, shooting 2-for-9 from the field and getting in early foul trouble. But he completely turned it around in the second half, being much more aggressive inside and taking fewer long twos.
Led by Afflalo and Moore, the Magic drilled their first eight three-point attempts of the second half and from there, Orlando’s scoring stayed consistent the rest of the way. Phoenix never recovered.