Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 111

Mar 15

Dwight Howard stays

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

It’s no longer bittersweet to talk about Dwight Howard. For Orlando Magic fans, for today, it’s just sweet.

Howard opts in for the 2012-2013 season? A collective sigh of relief swells up in Orlando. The tension and dizziness that Dwight’s indecision has created for Orlando fans has been frustrating, overshadowing the Magic’s considerable success and casting an uneasiness over the festivities of Orlando’s first All-Star Weekend.

But today, the Magic fan base can rest easy, at least for a little while. In a report now confirmed by other major media outlets, Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM has stated that Dwight will indeed waive his early termination option (which he has officially done) and remain a Magic player for the final year of his contract.

So what does it all mean?

It means that Orlando is playing for keeps this season. It means the No. 3 seed in the East and recent wins over Miami and Chicago are no joke. The Magic are invested in the present and are now looking at making a serious push with the roster they have.

Though Howard’s decision still only extends his current contract for one more season, it gives the organization a chance to band together for the stretch run of the current season. For a team playing as well as the Magic have through the torment and antics of the past several months, just imagine how much better they will be now that they are united for up to 15 more months.

In the long term, it means that the top objective for general manager Otis Smith is going to be finding a guy or two (a star or two) to bring on board in Orlando and get Dwight to sign that huge career-ending contract that the Magic fanbase is hoping for. When the free agency circus comes to town next year, the onerous veteran contracts now on the payroll will be a little less onerous and the Magic won’t be in such dire straits trying to find players or flexibility to put around Howard for the long run.

In short, the events that transpired the past 24 hours benefit Orlando both in the immediate and in the long run.

The biggest positive to come from today?

Hope.

Lord knows fans would’ve been tempted to throw in the towel if Dwight took off at the end of this season or Orlando was forced to put up with the likes of Brook Lopez for the remainder of this season. Instead, Orlando is blessed with more time and to make matters better, that blessing carries the added benefit of allowing the franchise to focus on staying one of the winningest teams in the league.

Mar 14

Recap: San Antonio Spurs 122, Orlando Magic 111

Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

BOX SCORE

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.

Defining Moment

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.

Mar 14

Preview: Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs
  • Date: Mar. 14, 2012
  • Time: 8:30 p.m.
  • Television: Sun Sports
  • Arena: AT&T Center

Records

  • Magic: 28-15
  • Spurs: 27-13

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • J.J. Redick
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Dwight Howard

Spurs:

  • Tony Parker
  • Danny Green
  • Richard Jefferson
  • DeJuan Blair
  • Tim Duncan

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.5 (27th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.6 (13th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.7 (11th of 30)

Spurs:

  • Pace: 91.8 (13th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 107.7 (6th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.4 (14th of 30)

Read about the Spurs

48 Minutes of Hell

Mar 14

HoopIdea: NBA players protecting their shooting percentages

Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Take yourself back to the fall and imagine sitting on your couch watching NFL Sunday Ticket. There are 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter and the Detroit Lions just got the ball back at their own 40 yard line.

Everyone in the world knows what is coming next. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will scramble for a few seconds and then launch the ball into the end zone in the direction of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The chances are rather low that the Lions will actually score six points on the play, but who cares? It’s worth a shot.

The outcome was probably that Stafford threw a pick or incompletion and his passer rating took a hit. Whatever. The Lions tried to maximize their point total and it was a lot more exciting to watch than Stafford receiving the snap and taking a knee. Also, the Lions threw it deep, even though there was a chance the defense could intercept the pass and return it for six points the other way.

You would think a similar situation plays out in the NBA at the end of quarters, but it doesn’t. NBA players are all too happy to hold the ball instead of jacking up a half-court shot and there is virtually no way the other team can score points on the play! Why don’t NBA players just let it fly?

Players are more interested in protecting their field goal percentage than adding three points to the scoreboard. Since field goal percentage and three point percentage come into play in contract negotiations, one could argue that players are making a smart business decision when they refuse to toss a low percentage shot at the rim.

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Mar 14

Who’s to blame between the Magic and Dwight Howard?

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Well, it finally happened. Dwight Howard finally broke and said something to chum the waters for the rest of his career. After months of frustrating indecision which was not exactly helping Howard’s image, he finally provided his detractors some quotable ammunition, saying of his discussions with the Magic:

“I told them I want to finish this season out and give our team, give our fans some hope for the future. But I feel they have to roll the dice. It might be tough, but I feel we’ve got a great opportunity. But they’ve got to roll it.”

That comment is … uh, tonedeaf. And narcissistic. And while I truly don’t think Howard is as shallow as the remark sounds, it’s the sort of thing he’ll be answering for for years.

However, what is distressing to me is not the comment itself — what, you’re telling me a 26-year-old millionaire being catered to by an incompetent business has a little much self-regard? — but the way the comment is being processed and that reaching this point was just about inevitable.

Individual labor issues in the NBA now are a media-powered gotcha game: you’re either re-upping with the home team on Twitter FROM THE INSIDE OF YOUR BACKPACK or you’re a delusional mini-tyrant who demands to be flanked with yes men and given your own in-season reality television saga.

By all accounts, Dwight Howard is pretty close to what his public persona has always been: he’s youthful to the point of being juvenile, he’s image-minded but not always image-savvy, he’s warm and kind, and sort of a goof. But the reactions I’ve noticed since Dwight made his remark have not been that the Magic have dug their own grave and allowed things to come to this point, but that Dwight is revealing the extent of his own self-interest at the expense of the team.

It’s old news how undervalued superstars are on a max contract, yet so much of this discussion is about how Dwight Howard is screwing the franchise by insisting on leaving at the end of the season rather than allowing the Magic to get something back in a trade. If he cared about the team, the line goes, he’d let them deal him to the Bulls, or at least the Lakers, or even to the Nets for their middling offer. This argument keeps coming up in free agency news cycles but I’ll make it again: what, precisely, does Dwight Howard owe to the Magic?

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Mar 13

Recap: Orlando Magic 104, Miami Heat 98 (OT)

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

BOX SCORE

When Jameer Nelson performed at an All-Star caliber level during the 2008-2009 regular season and 2010 NBA Playoffs, the Orlando Magic weren’t just a different team, they were a special team. A team that could beat anyone on any given night (except the Boston Celtics).

That team that could beat anyone on any given night?

It showed up against the Miami Heat. All thanks to Nelson.

You’d have to go back to Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks to remember the last time Nelson played like an All-Star. That’s how good he was against the Heat.

It took Nelson a while to rev up his engines, too, scoring only five points in the first half before putting up 20 points in the second half and overtime combined. What did he do to eventually get going on offense?

Be aggressive.

It’s a novel concept, but Nelson’s aggressiveness offensively (or lack of it) has always determined how good of a player he is. When he’s passive, as he has been for most of this season, he’s an average point guard or worse. When he’s in attack mode, as he was against Miami, there’s not many point guards in the NBA that are better than Nelson. That’s not an overstatement either. That’s how good he can be.

In the second half, Nelson picked apart the Heat’s defense in a variety of ways. He spotted up from the perimeter and made a couple of three-pointers, not hesitating and shooting with decisiveness.

Nelson stepped up in the clutch. He made a big three-point shot on the left wing in crunch time with 44 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 91 apiece. He received the outlet pass from Hedo Turkoglu after Turkoglu secured the rebound, dribbled up the court as the Magic were getting set to run a play, and hoisted up a three-pointer with no hesitation whatsoever, perhaps to the surprise of Shane Battier, who gave Nelson a little too much airspace to put up a shot. That jumper gave Orlando the lead momentarily at 94-91 before Dwyane Wade responded with a three-point shot of his own.

Then in overtime, Nelson broke down Miami defensively not once but twice in pick-and-rolls, splitting two defenders and making a layup on both occasions in spectacular fashion. The second of his two layups was more impressive than the first, given that he split LeBron James and Udonis Haslem off the dribble at the top of the key, then maneuvered around Chris Bosh at the rim for a layup that had the right amount of spin off the glass to go in. Nelson’s layup put the Magic up by the score of 102-96 with 55.3 seconds left in overtime, beginning the process of closing the door on the game before Redick slammed it shut with two free-throws to ice it.

Yes, Dwight Howard was special, putting up 24 points, 25 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, his 40th 20-20 game of his career and eighth this season. Yes, J.J. Redick had another eye-popping plus/minus (+26) for a second straight game.

But this was Nelson’s night to shine.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Nelson was the difference-maker. Dwight was the best player on the floor and that’s taking into account Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh each putting up numbers against Orlando, with Wade delivering in the clutch in the fourth quarter.

Defining Moment

Up 102-98, Dwight missed four free-throws with a chance to seal the game in overtime. For whatever reason, with the Heat down four points on each possession, LeBron and Wade shot (and missed) three-pointers. Why?

X-Factor

The Magic were down by as many as 14 points in the game, yet never gave up. Led by Nelson in the second half and overtime, Orlando traded haymakers with Miami and came out victorious.

That Game Was … a Classic

It remains to be seen whether or not this was Dwight’s last home game in a Magic uniform. No matter what, you can add this volume to the collection of classic games between the Magic and Heat.

Mar 13

Preview: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic
  • Date: Mar. 13, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: NBA TV
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Heat: 31-9
  • Magic: 27-15

Probable starters

Heat:

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

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • J.J. Redick
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Dwight Howard

Advanced stats

Heat:

  • Pace: 92.0 (10th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 109.9 (1st of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 100.4 (7th of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.4 (27th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.6 (13th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.8 (11th of 30)

Read about the Heat

Heat Index

Mar 13

Ryan Anderson: Clutch City

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

With all the rabblerousing surrounding Kobe and his ability (or inability in many cases) to perform in clutch moments, it can be hard to notice that the Orlando Magic have a clutch performer playing for their team. That’s right, not only is Ryan Anderson a starter, a really tall three-point shooter, a beast on the offensive glass, and an efficiency juggernaut but he’s also clutch. Like, light’s out clutch.

There are different ways to define crunch time situations but the biggest thing you have to look for is consistency, which is why you should be inclined to look at not just the biggest shots but the percentage of shots made in crunch time. For that, the most common crunch time definition (a situation under 5:00 left in the fourth quarter or overtime with a scoring margin of five points in either direction) will be used.

The next step is to measure success. Field goal percentage won’t do the job because part of what makes Anderson so deadly is his ability to hit the three. So we weight it and use effective shooting percentage as our gauge.

Basketball-Reference shows that when the big shot is on the line, Anderson has been the guy to deliver the goods for the Magic. Especially if that big shot needs to be a three-pointer. This season, Anderson has attempted 24 shots with less than 5:00 remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime with a scoring margin of five points in either direction.

Of those 24 shots, he’s made nine of them, which leaves something to be desired as far as a field goal percentage goes. Guess what, though? Eight of those nine made shots were three-pointers, putting his effective field goal percentage at 54.2 percent.

To give you a frame of reference on that number, this season Paul Pierce leads the league in effective field goal percentage at 66 percent for the season under the same restrictions. Anderson’s percentage of 54.2 percent would rank him in the top 10 among players with a minimum of 25 field goal attempts.

The only two guys this season to hit more than eight three pointers in that rubric (where Anderson is right now)? Jason Terry and Kevin Durant. So yeah, I would say that Ryan is in pretty good company as far as crunch time situations go so far this season.

You’ve heard this all before, but by way of comparison it is important to point out Kobe Bryant’s effective field goal percentage under this rubric. The Black Mamba is shooting at 28.9 percent in crunch time this season and only has hit three triples in those crunch time moments.

It’s not hard to see what a gem Orlando has in Ryan Anderson. He still ranks in the top 20 for Player Efficiency Rating in the NBA (22.3), he still hits the glass hard, and as things start to funnel into the playoffs (where anything can happen), he is showing signs of being the type of player who wants the ball in close games to help the Magic win (ask the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls).

You can’t always dump the ball to Dwight when you need a bucket. Orlando specializes in spreading the floor and getting good looks from deep. If Anderson continues at this clip in crunch time, Stan Van Gundy will be in a good place come playoff time.

Quibble all you want about what makes a clutch player. Argue with your friends about who has hit bigger shots, more shots, better shots. None of that matters thanks to advanced statistics. We know who is clutch because the numbers tell us who is clutch. Thank God we no longer have to rely on our memories or our inclination about certain guys being “closers.”

Ryan Anderson is clutch. There are no two ways about it. You have to keep feeding him the ball late in games.

Mar 13

J.J. Redick the playmaker

The pick-and-roll has been one of the primary tenets of the Orlando Magic’s offensive system since head coach Stan Van Gundy’s first day on the job.

When you envision the Magic run their vaunted pick-and-roll attack this season (yes, it still can be vaunted even though this is the least-talented team in the Van Gundy era), you think of Jameer Nelson or Hedo Turkoglu running a middle pick-and-roll or side pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard as the screener. From there, either Nelson or Turkoglu look for their own shot, pass it to Dwight on the roll to the basket, or kick it out to one of Orlando’s many three-point shooters.

There’s other players for the Magic that can execute pick-and-rolls, like Chris Duhon and J.J. Redick, but you don’t typically see either player run them with the frequency that Nelson and Turkoglu do.

However, in the case of Redick, with Turkoglu suspended (made contact with an official when Orlando played the Chicago Bulls on Thursday) for Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, he had to be relied upon much more by Van Gundy to run the Magic’s offense. In other words, run a lot of pick-and-roll sets. Needless to say, in light of Orlando’s 107-94 win versus the Pacers, Redick got the job done and proved once again that he’s an underrated playmaker.

In the first quarter, the Pacers fell into a deep hole and couldn’t recover because of their inability to defend the Redick-Dwight pick-and-roll properly.

_______

On this possession, the Magic start off in their “horns” set with Dwight and Ryan at the elbows. Jameer Nelson dumps the ball in to Dwight. This is where the primary action of this particular play begins.

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Mar 12

Monday’s Magic Word

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “After eight seasons of being tied to one franchise, you can understand why Howard relishes the prospect of becoming a free agent. He loves the spotlight and loves being courted, as everyone saw when the Magic beat the New Jersey Nets in Newark, N.J., on Feb. 22. Howard and his advisers view free agency as an opportunity that a player will have only once, maybe twice, when he is in his prime. So why not make the most of it? Why not listen to as many sales pitches as possible? Why not enjoy free agency and the spotlight?”
  • In that link, Robbins provides plenty of insight. He explains whether or not Dwight Howard-to-Miami, the latest rumor to pop up, is an actual possibility.
  • With games against the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, and Dallas Mavericks coming up in the next few weeks, the Magic are going to be tested. Whether or not Dwight will be there to help them, with the trade deadline on Thursday, remains to be seen.
  • David Aldridge of NBA.com believes that the Magic, fearing what happened with Shaquille O’Neal in 1996 and not wanting to lose their franchise center for nothing (again), will trade Dwight by the deadline. There’s also the matter of filling the seats at Amway Center with a competitive team on display. Rebuilding is likely not an option for Orlando, which may determine what they receive in a deal if they decide to move Dwight.
  • This week, with regards to figuring out what to do with Dwight, is one of the most important in franchise history for Orlando.
  • Did you know that the Magic are one of only five teams (the Chicago Bulls, Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, and Oklahoma City Thunder are the others) in the NBA to post a winning record in each month of the regular season so far? Now you do.
  • At Orlando Pinstriped Post, Evan Dunlap has put together a trade deadline primer (Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV) to examine the Magic’s assets. His roster breakdown is a must-read.
  • Orlando had a vintage performance against the Indiana Pacers in yesterday’s game.
  • Amidst a report from Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, in which he said Dwight is interested in the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami, Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk just wants all the rumors to stop.
  • Helin also believes that if the Magic keep Dwight beyond March 15, they’ll invariably get crushed in the second round of the playoffs. I have to slightly disagree with Helin’s sentiment. Orlando may lose in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, perhaps to the Heat or Bulls, but to suggest they’ll get “crushed” is a bit much.
  • Josh Smith comments on Dwight’s future. Smith is a close friend of Dwight’s.
  • Roy Hibbert was at Dwight’s mercy in last night’s game.
  • It remains to be seen if the Magic will get trade offers good enough to make them seriously consider trading Dwight. For now, more rumors will populate the internet.
  • What would a trade between Orlando and Chicago look like? And what would the roster dynamics be for both teams? Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated attempts to answer some of those questions.
  • If it was up to Kenny Smith, he wouldn’t trade LeBron James or Dwyane Wade for Dwight.
  • The Pacers wilted to the Redick-Howard pick-and-roll.
  • Tom Ziller of SB Nation keeps it short and to the point: “These are the Orlando Magic: losing to the Charlotte Bobcats and beating the Chicago Bulls in the very same week. These are the Orlando Magic.”
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