Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 110

Mar 21

Recap: Orlando Magic 103, Phoenix Suns 93

AP Photo/Reinhold Matay

BOX SCORE

It’s no secret that Dwight Howard would be best paired with a star point guard like Chris Paul or Deron Williams, whether it’s with the Orlando Magic or another team. When you talk about Dwight’s biggest flaw as a player, the inability to rely on him consistently in crunch time because of his inept free-throw shooting, Paul or Williams would — in theory — fix the problem. It’s why people, not just Magic fans, have been pining to see Dwight team up with Paul or Williams for several years now. Not to mention the fact that Dwight and Paul or Williams would be lethal in pick-and-rolls together and so on and so forth.

But pairing Dwight with an excellent stretch-four like Ryan Anderson is not so bad either. The Phoenix Suns found out the hard way.

Throughout the game, the Suns had trouble containing Dwight and Anderson. As such, Dwight went off for 28 points, 16 rebounds, and two blocks while Anderson scorched Phoenix with a game-high 29 points, tying a career-high with seven three-pointers.

For Dwight, defended primarily by Marcin Gortat, he had everything going for him in the post. When he wasn’t getting fouled, Dwight was fluid and patient with his post moves, his hooks (especially the lefty hook) were falling on either side of the block, and there was nothing Gortat could do to stop him. For Gortat, it was not for a lack of trying. It’s just that when Dwight is in a rhythm, in a groove, and getting to his spots on the floor, there’s not a lot that guys like Gortat can do. That’s how good Dwight can be.

For Anderson, the three-point shot doesn’t define how good he is as a player because he’s much more than just a shooter, but it’s certainly a strong barometer of success for him. In this case, Anderson had a wildly successful game because he made seven three-pointers, which accounted for 21 of his 29 points. For whatever reason, probably because the Suns are a below-average defensive team (ranked 20th in Defensive Rating), Anderson kept finding himself open in pick-and-pops or by spotting up on the perimeter.

And when Anderson wasn’t occasionally wide open for three-point shots, he was getting fouled attempting a three-pointer. It happened twice in the game.

If it wasn’t for a dunk and a layup in the fourth quarter, all of Anderson’s points would have came from three-point shots, whether directly or indirectly. Apparently, Phoenix didn’t get the memo on Anderson’s scouting report.

It’s understandable for Dwight to dominate, nay, destroy Gortat because he’s a great player. It’s a little harder to understand how Anderson could dominate just as much versus the Suns, given that it’s easier to account for him defensively.

But then again, Anderson is that good. He’s proven it countless times this season for the Magic. Phoenix was the latest to find out.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Dwight. In Gortat’s first game back in Orlando since being traded to the Suns in 2010, he was greeted rudely by Dwight, who destroyed Gortat in the post for 28 points and 16 rebounds.

X-Factor

Ryan Anderson’s three-point shooting. Players for the Suns continuously lost track of Anderson in pick-and-pops or when he was spotting up on the perimeter. Anderson made Phoenix pay, tying a career-high with seven threes.

That Game Was … a Laugher

With Dwight dominating on the low block and Anderson shooting the lights out from the outside, the Suns didn’t stand a chance against Orlando. As the game went on, the less competitive things got.

Mar 21

Preview: Phoenix Suns at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Phoenix Suns at Orlando Magic
  • Date: Mar. 21, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Sun Sports
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Suns: 23-23
  • Magic: 29-18

Probable starters

Suns:

  • Steve Nash
  • Grant Hill
  • Jared Dudley
  • Channing Frye
  • Marcin Gortat

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Jason Richardson
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Dwight Howard

Advanced stats

Suns:

  • Pace: 92.2 (9th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.6 (14th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 105.5 (20th of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.4 (26th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 103.8 (17th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.9 (11th of 30)

Read about the Suns

Valley of the Suns

Mar 21

Dwight Howard, free-throws, and the real problem in Orlando

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

When asked if the Orlando Magic were title contenders, LeBron James answered, “Absolutely.”

It happened on Sunday after Orlando suffered a 91-81 loss to Miami. Maybe LeBron was being cordial. Maybe he did not want to kick a marginal team while they were down. Maybe he was blinded by the fact that Orlando got the better of Miami twice already this season. Regardless, you can’t help but think that maybe LeBron had a point.

Now let me throw another angle at you. Recently on Twitter, Myles Brown and Eddy Rivera had a brief, albeit telling, discussion that involved Dwight Howard, free-throws, and the definition of “elite players.”

Note: Myles Brown is great. He has a very entertaining Twitter account (@mdotbrown) and knows a ton about the game. So I’m not picking on him. I’m just picking up on one of the things he said and running with it.

I’ll spare you the details and get to the point. Myles basically argued that Dwight is not a closer and go-to guy in part because he can’t hit free-throws. At first, it made sense. You don’t want to put the ball in a guy’s hands that is a liability at the free-throw line. It’s not safe!

But does this really mean he’s not a top five player? We know in our heart of hearts that Dwight is most definitely a top five player in the league, but when Myles Brown called that into question partly on account of his ability to hit free-throws? I started pacing (at least in my head).

Second note: here’s the connection. If Dwight shot a ridiculously poor free-throw percentage but the Magic had a championship or two in the bag, folks would have zero hesitation hailing him as a top five player in the league. But he hasn’t, so you have to find a reason to take him out of that top five. Thus, people pick at his free-throw shooting (among other things).

To get to the bottom of this, I decided to take a look at the last five teams to win a title in the NBA since 2007, examine their free-throw shooting, see how well their big men shot free-throws, and throw the whole thing together in some convoluted equation that will determine a conclusion I reached, which I’ll explain shortly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 20

Tuesday’s Magic Word

  • Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu all struggled mightily against the Chicago Bulls, resulting in an 85-59 blowout loss for the Orlando Magic.
  • Head coach Stan Van Gundy takes some of the blame for the Magic’s recent struggles on offense, noting that “we’ve got better players than that.”
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “He has next season left on his contract with the Magic before he can become a coveted free agent. Without signing him to an extension, there will be doubt about the franchise’s direction. And some distractions. For once, we’re not discussing Dwight Howard, although his name surely will surface in these talks. The Magic need to make a decision about their coach, Stan Van Gundy.”
  • With a win against Orlando, head coach Tom Thibodeau became the fastest coach in NBA history to win 100 regular season games. Van Gundy speaks very highly of Thibodeau.
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie suggests that Van Gundy may be better off coaching another team instead of extending his contract with the Magic: “Van Gundy, not unlike Howard, might be wise to consider his options here. Considering his talent, perhaps an extension in Orlando might not be the wisest move for his career.”
  • This shot chart says it all about Orlando’s offensive performance against the Bulls.
  • Without Derrick Rose, Chicago is 10-4 this season. That includes wins against the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, and Magic in the span of less than a week.
  • How suffocating was the Bulls’ defense against Orlando? Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated reveals some of the gruesome details: “The Magic made four of 20 threes, provided Chicago with 25 points on 19 turnovers and shot no better from the free throw line than the Bulls did from the three-point line, as each went 7-of-18, respectively.”
  • When Ryan Anderson has an off-night offensively, as he did against Chicago (scoring 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting from the floor), the Magic typically lose. In 29 Orlando wins this season, Anderson averages 17.6 points per game with a True Shooting percentage at 62.9 percent. In 17 losses, those numbers dip to 12.4 and 50.1 respectively.
  • Chris Duhon is really bad. So is Glen Davis.
  • In his press conference on Thursday, in which he formally announced he was waiving the early termination option in his contract, Dwight talked a lot about loyalty as one of the reasons he chose to stay with the Magic for one more year but he also mentioned that he felt the team could compete for a championship this season. Rohan Cruyff of HoopSpeak doesn’t think Orlando is in a position to do that: “Howard perhaps opted for an extra year in Orlando because, for many years, the Magic legitimately contended for titles […], but the future looks dire without a massive free agent signing next summer.
  • The Magic are 17-11 “in games where both teams either have no rest or both teams have at least one day of rest” for a winning percentage of .607 according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com — fourth-best among Eastern Conference teams.
  • Steve Perrin of SB Nation: “Howard stuck around to take a crack at winning a championship with the Magic, who have the third best record in the East after all. Getting thrashed by the Bulls is probably not what Howard had in mind when he signed that waiver last Thursday.”
  • Anderson is underrated.

Mar 19

Recap: Chicago Bulls 85, Orlando Magic 59

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

BOX SCORE

It’s rare to see an NBA team devastate an opponent defensively. The Boston Celtics were able to do so on January 23, holding the Orlando Magic to a franchise-low 56 points in a game. The Chicago Bulls nearly outdid the Celtics on defense on Monday, limiting the Magic to 59 points — on the road no less. For the Bulls, it was a franchise record for points allowed in a regular season game.

It was a perfect storm of futility for Orlando.

Not only have the Magic been plagued by a turnover bug in recent games, but they were facing off against a team ranked second in Defensive Rating.

In games against the New Jersey Nets on Friday (an 86-70 win) and Miami Heat (a 91-81 loss) on Sunday, Orlando committed 18 turnovers. Guess how many turnovers the Magic compiled against Chicago?

18.

That’s not going to help you win ballgames.

As for the explanation behind the Bulls’ defensive devastation, head coach Tom Thibodeau’s gameplan was simple. Let Dwight Howard get his and stop everyone else for Orlando. That strategy didn’t pan out so well for Chicago on March 8, as Dwight was able to dominate offensively as well as get plenty of help from his supporting cast. This time around, though, he was all alone.

While Dwight didn’t have too much trouble scoring against Joakim Noah and Omer Asik, the remainder of his teammates couldn’t generate points no matter how hard they tried. The Bulls did an excellent job of defending Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu in pick-and-rolls, sagging their big men to account for Dwight as the roll man while daring Nelson and Turkoglu to beat them on the perimeter. Nelson and Turkoglu were unable to do so.

Chicago also stayed at home on the Magic’s three-point shooters, contesting almost every jumper that was hoisted up. And when players like Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick got a clean look behind the three-point line, they were unable to make the Bulls pay.

It’s games like these when Orlando’s lack of a consistent shot creator on the perimeter is readily apparent.

Which will likely doom the Magic in the playoffs.

X-Factor

John Lucas III outscored Dwight. That’s not a typo. Granted, It’s not all offense, as the game is played on both ends of the floor. But Lucas III sliced up Orlando’s defense, scoring 20 points in roughly 21 minutes of playing time.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

With Derrick Rose sidelined for a fourth consecutive game with a groin injury, Carlos Boozer stepped up with a double-double (24 points and 13 rebounds) to lead the way for the Bulls.

LVP (Least Valuable Player)

Everyone on the Magic roster not named Dwight Howard. His teammates combined to shoot 16-for-54 from the floor (29.6 percent). Credit Chicago’s stifling defense.

Mar 19

Preview: Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic
  • Date: Mar. 19, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Television: TNT
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Bulls: 37-10
  • Magic: 29-17

Probable starters

Bulls:

  • C.J. Watson
  • Ronnie Brewer
  • Luol Deng
  • Carlos Boozer
  • Joakim Noah

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Jason Richardson
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Dwight Howard

Advanced stats

Bulls:

  • Pace: 89.8 (25th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 109.0 (2nd of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 99.4 (2nd of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.4 (26th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.5 (14th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 102.0 (11th of 30)

Read about the Bulls

By The Horns

Mar 19

Monday’s Magic Word

  • One of the keys to beating the Miami Heat, if the Orlando Magic play their conference, division, and in-state rival in the postseason, is slowing down Dwyane Wade.
  • Another aspect of a potential Magic-Heat playoff series is figuring out if Hedo Turkoglu, typically defended and shut down by LeBron James, can be relied upon by Orlando.
  • According to the SCHOENE projection system, the Magic are slated to finish the regular season with a 42-24, the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, and a first round date with the Atlanta Hawks. A Hawks team that has won nine of their last 13 games against Orlando.
  • CEO Alex Martins made a remarkable save by convincing Dwight Howard to stay for another season. As David Alridge of NBA.com notes, that gives the Magic more time to improve the roster and put Howard in a better position to win a title in the hopes of inking him to a long-term extension.
  • Marc Stein of ESPN.com thinks Orlando, despite keeping Dwight around for a little while longer, should trade him.
  • The odds are low that the Magic could beat Miami in a seven-game series.
  • The Dwight free agency circus will be coming back to town next season for Orlando.
  • Abe Schwadron of SLAM ONLINE: “Bosh’s 3-point play on a James dish with 3:46 remaining was the dagger that did in the Magic, who at that point fell behind 84-73 and couldn’t claw back into the game, despite team-highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds from Dwight Howard.”
  • Dave Kindred of Grantland details how Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM got the scoop that Dwight decided he was going to stay with the Magic for one more year: “[I]n six years covering the Magic, he had developed a relationship with Howard — ‘not bosom buddies, but we talked’ — that enabled him to send a casual BlackBerry note to the player after a game in San Antonio.”
  • Brett Koremenos of NBA Playbook: “Throughout the course of the game, Miami went to a 5-out middle pick and roll set. The basic premise of the play is a two-man game in the middle of the floor with the screener rolling hard to the rim surrounded by three shooters. Ironically, it is an action that has been a trademark during the Stan Van Gundy-Dwight Howard era. On Sunday, however, the Magic had some difficulty defending it.”
  • Five things to watch for in tonight’s game between Orlando and the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose, nursing a groin injury, is not expected to play.
  • J.J. Redick’s playmaking ability has been well-documented at Magic Basketball recently. Zach Lowe of The Point Forward also sings the praises of Redick as a secondary distributor for the Magic.
  • Tom Ziller of SB Nation: “I accept why the Magic decided to delay dealing with the Dwight Howard situation: they are playing with house money at this point. But why didn’t they try to upgrade the roster around him at the deadline? Were they too busy doing fist pumps after Dwight’s decision?”

Mar 19

Recap: Miami Heat 91, Orlando Magic 81

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

BOX SCORE

This is what head coach Stan Van Gundy said after the Orlando Magic defeated the New Jersey Nets on Friday, despite committing 18 turnovers.

“We don’t value the ball much. We just throw it around and don’t really think it matters, and that’s going to be a huge problem. You’re not going to win a playoff series like that — you’re just not.”

Apparently the Magic didn’t get the memo, compiling 18 turnovers — yet again — in a loss to the Miami Heat.

Even though LeBron James stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, and five steals, he did only score 14 points on 4-for-14 shooting from the floor. So despite Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade having big games to circumvent LeBron’s relatively quiet night (for his standards), with Wade doing much of the heavy lifting in the fourth quarter (scoring 14 of his 31 points in the period) with the game still very much up for grabs, Orlando had a chance to beat the Heat.

But turnovers did Orlando in.

Sure, Ryan Anderson, J.J. Redick, and Hedo Turkoglu didn’t make much of an impact in the game and Dwight Howard just couldn’t get things going on offense in the fourth quarter when the Magic needed to rely on him to generate points. Those are relevant storylines to take away from Orlando’s loss.

Yet it all comes back to the Magic’s inability to take care of the basketball against Miami. That’s the storyline that mattered (and matters) the most.

Orlando got away with turning the ball over 24 times in an overtime win against the Heat on Tuesday. The players for the Magic, however, can’t expect that to be a formula for success. Van Gundy knows that. Yet guys like Chris Duhon and Turkoglu keep turning it over. It’s not a coincidence, then, that turnovers were the main reason why Orlando lost to Miami on Sunday.

The Magic’s margin of error for beating teams like the Heat is low as it is. Why make things harder?

Turnovers are already killer because they’re wasted possessions. They’re backbreakers against Miami because of their ability to convert those turnovers into points, usually in transition since LeBron and Wade are able to get out and run in the open floor. Orlando is fortunate that the Heat didn’t really burn them too much in that regard. Miami scored only 14 points off of 18 Magic turnovers. The end result was a 10-point victory for the Heat, though the margin of victory could have been a whole lot bigger.

Orlando better not continue testing their luck.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

With LeBron having a lackluster performance, Wade (and Bosh) picked up the slack for Miami. Wade was especially dominant in the fourth quarter, making a number of floaters and layups to shut the door on the Magic.

LVP (Least Valuable Player)

You could have your choice between Turkoglu, Anderson, Redick, or Duhon. Each of those players struggled mightily, either by coughing up the basketball, getting burned defensively, or simply not scoring.

X-Factor

Although Bosh had a quiet second half (18 of his 23 points came in the first half), he was the main reason the Heat got off to a good start in the game. Bosh primarily did much of his damage in the post against Anderson.

Mar 18

Preview: Orlando Magic at Miami Heat

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Miami Heat
  • Date: Mar. 18, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: ESPN
  • Arena: AmericanAirlines Arena

Records

  • Magic: 29-16
  • Heat: 32-11

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Jason Richardson
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Dwight Howard

Heat:

  • Mario Chalmers
  • Dwyane Wade
  • LeBron James
  • Chris Bosh
  • Joel Anthony

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.4 (26th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.9 (13th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 102.0 (11th of 30)

Heat:

  • Pace: 91.9 (13th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 109.2 (1st of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 100.5 (5th of 30)

Read about the Heat

Heat Index

Mar 17

Recap: Orlando Magic 86, New Jersey Nets 70

AP Photo/John Raoux

BOX SCORE

There was a lot of hype surrounding Friday’s game between the Orlando Magic and New Jersey Nets.

At first, there was a strong possibility that Dwight Howard was going to show up at Amway Center in a Nets uniform. Had Dwight not waived the early termination option in his contract, it seemed more than likely that the Magic were going to send him to New Jersey at the trade deadline to avoid giving him a chance to become a free agent and possibly leave Orlando during the offseason. By trading Dwight for assets, the Magic would have been merely protecting themselves from letting Dwight walk during free agency and getting nothing in return. For Magic fans, to see Dwight sitting on the visitor’s bench would have been awkward.

Instead, with Dwight opting in to the final year of his deal (thus staying with Orlando for one more season), he did not get traded. Which made things awkward for the Nets on Friday, having to play against Dwight and the Magic.

And with no Deron Williams, no Jordan Farmar, no Gerald Wallace (acquired by New Jersey at the deadline), and no Brook Lopez, New Jersey had to play Orlando shorthanded. It’s no surprise, then, that the Nets lost.

To be frank, the Magic’s win against New Jersey — what with Dwight’s indecision impacting two franchises — was merely a footnote.

What matters now is the road ahead for Orlando. With Dwight’s future no longer casting a cloud over the Magic (for now), now the team will be able to fully focus their attention on the playoffs, which are rapidly coming up. As of now, Orlando is in line for the the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, with the Indiana Pacers trailing by 2.5 games and the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks trailing by 3.5 games respectively. With 21 games left for the Magic, their goal should be to clinch the No. 3 seed in the East (the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat are locked in with the top two seeds regardless of the order).

Yes, that may mean Orlando might face off against the Hawks or Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, two teams that have had the Magic’s number in recent times. But the odds that Orlando will be able to successfully avoid the Hawks or Celtics, with either the No. 3 or No. 4 seeds, are low. That’s a road the Magic will likely have to travel, so getting home-court advantage to try to maximize the chances of a series victory against Atlanta or Boston should be the goal.

Which means Orlando needs to keep winning. For the Magic, Friday’s win against the Nets was a start.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Dwight had a game-high 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the floor, including six rebounds and three blocks in roughly 32 minutes of playing time. A rather ho-hum performance for Dwight but it was more than enough against New Jersey.

That Game Was … Boring

Playing against a Nets’ squad that was missing three-fifths of their starting lineup, Orlando was on cruise control the entire game. That made for a rather uneventful evening between both teams.

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