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With one-sixth of the regular season in the books, the Orlando Magic are 8-3, Dwight Howard hasn’t been traded yet, Ryan Anderson may be emerging as a star, and J.J. Redick is off to the best start of his career. There’s a lot of positives to point out for the Magic.
Yet with Orlando’s one and only back-to-back-to-back this season starting today and a schedule that’s about to get tougher in the next coming weeks, there’s a lot of questions waiting to be answered.
Magic Basketball is here to try to forecast the road ahead for the Magic.
How many wins do the Orlando Magic get on their lone back-to-back-to-back?
Nate Drexler: Two. It really shouldn’t be too much trouble to pick up the first two out of three. It will be San Antonio who presents the biggest problem for Orlando. On the back end of a back-to-back-to-back, the Spurs will just be too tough. It will be next to impossible to show up ready to compete with San Antonio after that much travel.
Danny Nowell: Two. I would say three, as I think all three of these teams are decent matchups for the Magic right now, but focus and effort have already been occasionally lacking, and this is the stretch in the season that most requires effort and focus.
Matt Scribbins: Three. They’re clearly a better team than the Knicks and Bobcats. For whatever reason, teams have been playing surprisingly well in the final game of the dreaded back-to-back-to-back. The Magic have too much momentum right now to lose at home to a depleted Spurs team in a huge gut check match up.
Fact or Fiction: Ryan Anderson will be named an All-Star this season.
Drexler: Fiction. You basically have to live in Orlando to know how well Anderson is playing this season, and when I say “good,” I simply mean compared to how he’s been in past years with fewer minutes. His strong play and efficiency is a pleasant treat to be sure, but not making any kind of national news.
Nowell: Fiction. He will perform at an All-Star sub level, but the lack of name recognition and the perception of his being a one dimensional player will keep him out of the game.
Scribbins: Fiction. All-Stars are not necessarily the best players from the first half of the season. Lots of nominations are nothing more than lifetime achievement awards. However, players often make it a year after they bust out so Anderson may positioning for a spot on next year’s roster.
What about the Magic’s 8-3 start has surprised the most?
Drexler: The fact that they aren’t winning in pretty ways. Several wins have been battles against sub-standard teams, and in previous years I feel like the Magic would have dominated some of these wins way more than they have this year. Put differently, I’m surprised the Magic aren’t competing with upper-echelon teams like the Bulls or the Heat (preseason).
Nowell: At this point, I’d say the team has stylistically inverted my expectations. I might have predicted fairly similar results record-wise, but I would’ve expected a record built on defense and making do with an average offense. The opposite has been true.
Scribbins: Easily the 3-0 West Coast road trip. To be honest, I was shocked the team went into Portland and crushed the Blazers in the 1st half and actually hung onto the lead. Portland is a miserable place to play, but the Magic handled the situation with aplomb and provided some hope for the rest of the season.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “The Orlando Magic already have completed one-sixth of their regular season, and enough games have passed to start drawing some conclusions. As coach Stan Van Gundy surveys his team, he sees plenty of valid reasons for concern. But even the unabashed worrier sees something that he loves about this group of players. They fight. That intangible quality came into full focus as Orlando won all three of its games on a successful West Coast road trip, including Thursday’s 117-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors. Although two of those victories came against admittedly lower-echelon teams, the Magic encountered adversity and overcame it. […] Those positive moments included a performance against the tough Portland Trail Blazers in which the Magic perhaps played better on the offensive end than at any time since they clobbered the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 1, 2010. Orlando’s ball movement has improved, at least for now. Small forward Hedo Turkoglu, plagued by maddening inconsistency last season, has heightened confidence and made key clutch plays down the stretch of the wins over the Blazers and the Warriors. And the team’s offense has shown admirable efficiency as a whole.”
- Jason Richardson’s knee injury, which occurred against the Golden State Warriors, is deemed not serious.
- If Von Wafer wants to earn more playing time, he’s going to need to improve his defense according to head coach Stan Van GUndy.
- Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel on Dwight Howard: “Can the Magic contend? That’s the question. They have no cap-space flexibility to attract another star, but you know who can change all that? Dwight. If Dwight really wanted to play the part of GM, he can try. All he has to do is turn the tables on the Nets, ask Williams to force his way to Orlando in a trade and see what the two can do here with better pieces than the Nets have (along with better weather and no state income tax.) He can be a one-team, one-town man who becomes the franchise hero forever, which is essentially the sales job that owner Rich DeVos told me he used when talking to Dwight. Howard is putting his reputation on the line at the trade deadline, what he stands for as a player, as a competitor.”
- A look back at Howard’s record-breaking night against the Warriors.
- It was a successful road trip for Howard and company.
- Head coach Mark Jackson’s Hack-a-Dwight strategy backfired.
- With every win, the possibility that the Magic gamble and keep Howard past the trade deadline grows. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has more on the scenario: “In the surprise of the week on this scorecard, I heard officials from two teams insist that Orlando’s keeping Howard past the March 15 trade buzzer is the scenario they actually expect … even if that means exposing the Magic Kingdom to the prospect of being leveled again by a repeat of Shaquille O’Neal’s defection without compensation to the Lakers in the Olympic summer of 1996. Could GM Otis Smith and Magic ownership really dare to let the trade deadline pass and risk the sight of Howard’s leaving not only for the 2012 London Games in July but also for a new full-time team … while getting nothing back in return? Just to show fans they exhausted every concept they could concoct to try to keep Dwight?”
- John Hollinger of ESPN Insider: “Here’s the thing about Hack-a-Dwight, or Hack-an-anybody: The player has to be an exceptionally bad foul shooter for this strategy to have much merit. Emphasis on exceptionally. It works with Ben Wallace or DeAndre Jordan. With just about anyone else, it’s highly questionable. Take Thursday night, for instance. Dwight Howard is a career 59.5 percent foul shooter and has done slightly better than that each of the past three seasons. But let’s take 59.5 percent as his chances of converting any given free throw. Sending him to the line for two shots produces an expected return of 1.19 points from the foul shots, a scoring rate better than that of any offensive team in the history of basketball. Just sending him to the line time after time is one of the worst percentage moves a team could possibly make.”
- Golden State had no one to stop Howard offensively in last night’s game.
- Howard isn’t interested in being traded to the Warriors.
- Howard’s 39 free-throw attempts stole the show in Orlando’s win yesterday.
- J.J. Redick enjoyed his time in Portland.
- More on Howard’s lack of interest to play for Golden State.
- Chris Bernucca of SheridanHoops.com: “You are the GM of an NBA team. It is the start of training camp, and your owner wants a championship this season. Every player is a free agent who can be signed to a one-year contract. Who is the first player you sign? I might sign Howard, who is the most dominant player in the league at his position.”
- Zach Lowe of The Point Forward provides his take on Jackson’s ill-fated decision to intentionally foul Howard throughout the game between the Magic and Warriors.
- Steve Perrin of SB Nation: “To be fair, Jackson was dealt a bad hand in this game, facing the most dominant big man in the NBA in the Warriors’ first game since losing Kwame Brown for the season with a pectoral tear. With his best and biggest low post defender sidelined, the Warriors were down to Biedrins and a bunch of smallish power forwards to try to contend with Howard. Jackson may have felt that Howard was going to score more against his team straight-up than he would at the line. Even so, it was the wrong strategy on every level — statistically, from an entertainment standpoint, for the game itself, and eventually on the scoreboard.”
- Hack-a-Dwight has spawned other “hyphenated player-specific NBA defensive strategies.”
- Tom Ziller of SB Nation with some revealing numbers: “In the fourth quarter, when Golden State fouled Dwight the most, Orlando scored 37 points in 24 possessions, or 1.54 points per possession, which is like Max Roach-level rhythm.”
- Howard was more efficient when he shooting from the free-throw line as opposed to when he was shooting from the field against Golden State.
- Similarities between Ryan Anderson and Peja Stojakovic.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Every morning on my way to work I listen to this awful local radio show called Bob and the Showgram. I think every town has one of these shows, where some fat-sounding man alternately wheezes and yells into a microphone while slack-jawed cronies occasionally pipe in with nonsense. It’s racist, homophobic, misogynistic and I CAN’T STOP LISTENING TO IT. Don’t get me twisted, it’s not that I like it — I hate it with the hot fire of a thousand hells — but for some twisted reason I can’t pry myself away.
I know that provoking me is the entire reason these fools make any money, but because I am the worst person in the entire world, I grind my teeth and white-knuckle my steering wheel every morning so that I can feel superior to these people. Which I am. I am way superior. I would enjoy the content of NPR so much more, but because of some sick pact I have with my inner loathing, and also because I have like sixty more years to wear socks and Tevas and listen to women loudly smack their lips over chanterelle mushrooms into a microphone (isn’t that what they do on NPR?), I keep listening to the Showgram.
I feel the same way about a Hack-a-Shaq or Hack-a-Dwight defense. Aside: can we never again say Hack-a-Dwight? It doesn’t even rhyme, which was the whole reason in the first place for the Hack-a-Construction. Morning shows should be fun, but Bob and his sick warped, awful cronies have made them miserable. AND YOU ARE JUST LIKE HIM, MARK JACKSON. THE DISEASE IS INSIDE YOU.
Basketball games are supposed to be a fun and acrobatic celebration of human accomplishment, and not a seven hour suckfest of me wondering why Dwight Howard can not keep his elbow at a consistent angle over his head. It becomes a reductive, Dadaist torture, wherein I am forced to contemplate an miniscule, asinine movement over and over again until I am reduced to weeping on my sofa.
Mark Jackson, you are better than this. You are supposed to be fun and wacky and sort of dumb — you are not supposed to be one of those Bellichickian win-at-all-costs bots. Basketball is a game, for entertainment, and I do not think you are as smart as Greg Popovich for fouling Dwight Howard eleventy jabillion times. The only reason I still like Popovich is because he has taken projecting misanthropy to new, hilarious levels.
Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images
I have two very simple observations regarding Hedo Turkoglu at the moment. The first is that he is showing signs of improvement, and the second is that he is not back to 2009 form.
Obviously the first things to take notice of are Turk’s offensive improvements. He’s scoring at a more efficient clip than he has the past two seasons, and is seemingly more comfortable in the offense after his brief but destructive departure from Orlando.
You have to start by looking at his PER, which is currently just under 17, two points above the league average, and several points above where he finished last year. Of course, PER is weighted mostly for offense and doesn’t tell the whole story of a player’s game, but if we’re looking at this number strictly on the basis of improvement, it’s compelling to see that number above his past three seasons (all below 15).
Perhaps a more important sign of improvement is Turk’s shooting percentage from pretty much everywhere on the court. His True Shooting percentage is the highest it’s ever been in his career, which basically confirms that we’re getting a more efficient output from Turk. Granted, he may not be stuffing the stat line like you’d want a fantasy starter to, but efficiency is the name of the game in Orlando. And really, has Turk ever been a stat stuffer? No. That’s not why we like him. We like him because he does things right.
The Magic simply cannot afford empty possessions this season, because aside from Dwight they simply don’t have the star power to fill it up and rely on volume offense to win games. While Stan Van Gundy would like Orlando to be a defense-oriented team, the focus on offense simply needs to be efficiency and execution on each possession. That’s one of the reasons why it is so crucial for guys like Turk to be efficient rather than “high-volume,” or, worse yet, “passive.”
In a Wild West shootout that featured a lot of intentional fouling and little defense, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Golden State Warriors by the score of 117-109. With the win, the Magic went 3-0 on their West Coast road trip. Dwight Howard’s struggles at the free-throw line are well-documented, as he’s never been better than a 60 percent free-throw shooter in his career. This season, however, Howard has really struggled, shooting 42.6 percent from the free-throw line before facing off against the Warriors. As a result, head coach Mark Jackson decided to intentionally foul Howard throughout the game. With Howard getting intentionally fouled and also generating fouls on his own during the natural flow of the game, he set an NBA record by amassing 39 free-throw attempts (breaking the previous record of 34 set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962). Howard went 21-of-39 from the free-throw line, which comes out to a 53.8 percentage. Yet Howard made 12 of his last 15 free-throw attempts so, as Shaquille O’Neal would like to say, he made them when they counted. In any case, Howard put up video game-like numbers, finishing with a game-high 45 points, 23 rebounds, three assists, four steals, and two blocks. Hedo Turkoglu put up 20 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field, nine assists, and four rebounds. J.J. Redick had 13 points and Ryan Anderson had 11 points. Golden State got brilliant performances from Monta Ellis, as he amassed 30 points and 11 assists while David Lee contributed with 26 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
12-12 FG | 21-39 FT | 2 BLK | 23 REB | 45 PTS | +12
With Andris Biedrins, David Lee, and Ekpe Udoh matched up on Howard, you had to figure the Golden State Warriors were going to be in for a long night. No one thought head coach Mark Jackson was going to make it longer with his Hack-a-Dwight strategy. What’s crazier? That Howard had 39 free-throw attempts or that he almost had 50 points and 25 rebounds? Take your pick.
5-12 FG | 3-7 3P | 9 AST | 4 REB | 20 PTS | +4
Lost in all the hoopla is the fact that Turkoglu played a brilliant game in the fourth quarter for the Magic, as has been the norm this season. When head coach Stan Van Gundy needed someone to make a play, he turned to Turkoglu and wasn’t disappointed. Wafer’s three-pointer generated from a 4/5 pick-and-roll with Turkoglu (at power forward) and Howard proved to be the dagger.
3-4 FG | 3-3 3P | 1 AST | 5 REB | 11 PTS | +13
For a second straight game, with Orlando going small in the final period to matchup better with an opponent, Anderson spent crunch time sitting on the bench. The decision by Van Gundy has little to do with Anderson and more to do with the personnel on the court. That said, Anderson’s defense against David Lee left a lot to be desired.
3-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 3 AST | 3 REB | 13 PTS | +10
The Magic were forced to rely heavily on Redick after Jason Richardson injured himself after spraining his left knee in the third quarter. Normally that isn’t a bad thing. Yet Monta Ellis took advantage of Redick, scoring almost at will against him in the second half. Redick isn’t a bad defender but when he’s left on an island, there’s only so much he can do.
|Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors may not be a very good team this season but as the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat found out, they can still beat you. With players like Ellis, Lee, Stephen Curry (when healthy), and even Nate Robinson that can pop off at any time, the Warriors are going to be a handful to deal with for a lot of teams in the NBA.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Brendan Malone never wanted his children to follow his career path. But his son Michael wanted to become a basketball coach more than anything else. And because of that, they will reunite when the Orlando Magic face the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night in Oakland, Calif. Brendan Malone, 69, is the Magic’s lead assistant coach. Michael Malone, 41, is the Warriors’ lead assistant coach. […] They share more than that. They have the same build, the same gravelly voice and the same accent developed from childhoods spent in the New York borough of Queens. And they both have a strong admiration for each other. To outsiders, Brendan Malone seems gruff and stern. But he gushes with a father’s pride when he lists his six kids’ accomplishments. That’s the case when he talks about how Michael Malone worked his way up the coaching ladder from a job as a volunteer assistant at Oakland University in Michigan to assistant-coaching jobs with the New York Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New Orleans Hornets and, now, the Warriors. Brendan Malone never wanted Michael or any of his kids to become coaches partly because of the sacrifices his wife, Maureen, and their children made.”
- Dwight Howard is struggling with his free-throw shooting.
- The Orlando Magic finally earned a signature win against the Portland Trail Blazers.
- Howard and adidas have something big planned for All-Star Weekend.
- A look back at some memorable interviews in recent NBA history.
- Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus: “While we often talk about balanced scoring, Orlando has a slightly different concept–balanced ballhanding and passing. The Magic are above average in terms of assisted field goals despite lacking a pure playmaker. Turkoglu hands out nearly as many assists as point guard Jameer Nelson (including a team-high six on Wednesday), and six Orlando players (Nelson, Turkoglu, Chris Duhon, Jason Richardson, J.J. Redick and Howard) average at least two assists per game–a claim just two other teams (the Dallas Mavericks and the Milwaukee Bucks) can match. Pair that with the Magic’s outside shooting and opposing defenses can struggle to keep up. When Orlando needs a score, however, Turkoglu is the man. He is a difficult matchup for defenses in the pick-and-roll because he is a triple threat, capable of driving, shooting and passing. At 6-10, Turkoglu almost always has a height advantage against his defender, giving him the opportunity to survey the defense and see passing lanes even when he is trapped. That doesn’t make him worth $50 million, but that does make him a valuable piece of what remains a contending team.”
- A preview of tonight’s game between the Orlando Magic and Golden State Warriors.
- A recap the Magic’s win against the Blazers.
- Chris Bernucca of SheridanHoops.com: “Among others, the following point guards have better numbers than Nelson’s paltry 7.8 points and 5.3 assists: Ricky Rubio and Andre Miller, who don’t start for their teams, and Jarrett Jack, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Teague, who are in their first full seasons as starters. An All-Star in 2009, Nelson also is shooting 42 percent from the field and isn’t providing his usual spark to Orlando’s offense.”
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
If you’ve followed Orlando’s season to this point, it’s been impossible to miss the coverage of Jameer Nelson’s slump. Certainly his poor play has been noticeable on the court, but even more striking has been the differences in reaction he inspires. Some observers look at Jameer and see a solid player mired in the valley of statistical inevitability — he’s just missing shots. Other observers watch him and swear there’s something off, that he needs to attack more and look for his own shot. He’s the basketball version of that rock teachers in movies keep on their desks. You know the one that Feeney types from Boy Meets World-esque shows always have: it’s black on one side and white on the other, so two people can be adamant about seeing different colors until we ALL LEARN A LESSON ABOUT PERSPECTIVE. Or something.
This isn’t really a new phenomenon with Nelson. Magic fans have long been divided about him; one subset of fans see him as a frustrating potential engine of the team, a guy who simply needs to focus to regain his All-Star form, while another set of fans has seen him as just better than average, a solid starter but by no means somebody to carry the team. It’s unclear who is right, or whether anybody is. Is there a good Jameer or a bad Jameer? Exactly how much can we expect?
For starters, I looked a few of the numbers from Hoopdata (I would prefer to say I “crunched” some numbers, but Hoopdata pretty much just lays ‘em all out for you). I looked at his 2008-2009 pre-injury numbers and his current season numbers, using these two as his respective peak and valley. Take these with the usual sample size disclaimer, since even the ’08-’09 season was cut short for Nelson by his labrum injury. The first time I looked at the stats, it seemed like Nelson was more or less doing the same things during his best and worst times, that he was just missing shots, per Rob Mahoney’s argument. A closer look, however, reveals some telling things about the aggression of Nelson’s play.