Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
The Blazers and Magic have a number of similarities, but are riding streaks of opposite types at the moment.
Both teams came into the season with little to no expectation of success and feature new coaches who have done impressive work replacing mainstays in their respective cities. They both have rosters with some well-regarded veterans, but a lot of inexperienced and unproven talent of varying levels.
But the Blazers are currently riding a hot streak nobody could have seen coming, while the Magic have slid to a season-high ninth straight loss. Orlando is staying competitive during this losing streak, but they’re having trouble putting themselves over the top against teams with superior talent.
This was a game of two halves for the Magic, both in terms of where they found their production and their approach defensively.
Arron Afflalo led the charge in the first half, scoring 16 of his 24 points in the first two quarters. His shot selection was interesting — all of his makes were at the rim or from midrange, and he didn’t attempt a single three-pointer.
Defensively, Jacque Vaughn opted not to have the Magic double LaMarcus Aldridge at all in the first half, letting him get pretty much whatever he wanted and focusing more on neutralizing Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard. The strategy seemed to work and the Magic rode it to a nine-point lead at halftime.
In the second half, Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic began paying more attention to Aldridge, but Batum, Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and J.J. Hickson heated up. The Blazers’ defense also improved noticeably after halftime, and they outscored the Magic 37-28 in the third quarter and 60-51 in the second half to send the game to overtime.
The inexplicable exception to the Blazers’ defensive improvement was Redick, whom they left open and he made them pay, single-handedly keeping the Magic in the game during the Blazers’ third-quarter scoring explosion.
A three-pointer with 8.9 seconds left in regulation by Jameer Nelson and a failed isolation attempt by Lillard shortly thereafter forced an overtime. Lillard proceeded to take over in the extra period and the Magic had no response.
The Blazers’ recent hot streak is deceptive. Portland continues to lean heavily on their starters and get almost nothing out of their bench on a nightly basis, but their top-level talent is still superior to a team like the Magic. In that sense, it’s encouraging that Orlando was able to hang with them in Monday’s game.
Considering the lottery implications, the losses piling up aren’t the worst thing in the world for the Magic. But it wouldn’t hurt for Orlando to get over the hump and actually win one of these close games.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
J.J. Redick could not miss in the third quarter, single-handedly keeping the Magic in the game as Damian Lillard heated up and the Magic’s defense fell apart. Redick finished with 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting.
Points in the paint. The Blazers outscored the Magic 60-44. Part of it was riding a hot shooting night from Redick, but Portland’s bigs were more successful inside than Orlando’s.
Jameer Nelson hit a late three to tie the game, which ended up going to overtime after a failed Lillard isolation. In the extra period, Lillard scored or assists on eight of the Blazers’ 17 points to guide them to victory.