Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 130

Feb 10

Magic Basketball Weekly: Orlando’s Jekyll and Hyde act

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Well, that does it, y’all. I’m officially terrified to write anything about this year’s Magic team. Seriously. They win five straight games and I write about how hopeful I am? Time to lose four straight! If I despair over the losses and the obvious roster shortcomings? Let’s beat the best team in the league! At this point, I’m like Cool Hand Luke toward the end of the movie, sobbing at Dwight Howard’s feet and begging him to please not hit me again.

It’s impossible not to be made to look silly about this team. Keeping this in mind, I rewatched the Heat game from Wednesday night, to try and decide whether that win was representative of the season — volatile, highly variant, ultimately winning brand of basketball — or an outlier, the product of guys simply getting hot at the right times.

I gathered the high school debate team that I keep in my basement, posed them this question, and what follows is the transcript. The affirmative side is represented by a likeable multicultural team captained by an attractive and cheerful girl who has gained early entry to Wesleyan for cultural studies. The negative side is a bunch of sneering Aryan Draco types who will be finance majors at Brown.


Affirmative opening statement: No less a poet than Nelson Mandela once observed that Twitter and a 24-hour news cycle have completely warped sports fans’ perspective and expectations. Whereas random variance and occasional losses once were processed semi-rationally (in every market outside of New York), the speed at which commentary moves now demands fans make opinions after every game — thus, every win guarantees a championship and every loss a failure.

The second quarter of the Miami game on Wednesday showed that, even with obvious roster shortcomings, the Magic have assembled enough talent to compete with anyone in the league. They scored their points on either excellent perimeter ball movement or as the product of outworking the other team in the post. They were able to absorb the impact of their recently porous defense, allowing Dwyane Wade 500,000 points on unmolested layups, and still win. Their greatest advantage, Dwight Howard, was both productive in himself and as a means of drawing attention from other players, resulting in excellent spacing and a metric ton of rebounds.

The above stated facts have led me to conclude that the Orlando Magic are not basically crappy, and that their victory over the Miami Heat was representative of their team quality.

Negative opening statement: I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said that even a broken clock is wrong twice a day.

We have long known the Magic can shoot well enough on any given night to beat a good team, but their method is simply not sustainable without more talent. Magic fans’ hopes rest on Ryan Anderson, who looks like a waterlogged Ben Affleck. Even if the team can occasionally catch lightning in a bottle, it’s foolish to have any long-term hopes for this team, because Dwight Howard is an enormous fickle infant, and unless the Magic reconciles itself to its essential crappiness, it will not rebuild enough to make up for the inevitable loss of Dwight Howard.

Affirmative rebuttal: People who refer to the Magic with singular possessives are intellectualy insecure twits. Ryan Anderson does not look like Ben Affleck.

Negative rebuttal: He does. He really does. If you made a moon bounce version of Ben Affleck or one of those sponge creations that children add water to to make enormous superhero-type deals, but if it was Ben Affleck. It should also be said that Otis Smith is still the general manager in Orlando, for whatever that’s worth.

Negative closing statement: Jason Richardson starts for the Orlando Magic. Chris Duhon plays for the Orlando Magic. There is no backup center, except for occasional minutes from Glen Davis. Anderson, the team’s second-best player, might actually be slower than most spry cater-waiters. It is obvious the Magic are sort of crappy.

Affirmative closing statement: We are forced to basically concede that the Magic, as presently constructed, are sort of crappy. We understand that Jason Richardson plays as if he literally does not have knees, but rather straight and frail rods for legs, like fluorescent tubes. We understand that Chris Duhon, during the start of the Magic’s run on Wednesday, literally dribbled into a crowd of three Heat players seemingly out of sheer will, before unaccountably hurling the ball straight into the backcourt. We are forced to confront that Hedo Turkoglu alternately looks like a genius or a lazy uncle who will not put down his Po Boy to hand you the remote.

However, they do still have enough talent which is used uniquely enough to win against anybody when they catch a ton of breaks. The Magic are a good team. Or, at least, to actually quote actual Ernest Hemingway: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

VERDICT: Those kids in the negative are SO POMPOUS! Affirmative wins, though it be added to the resolution that Ryan Anderson does look like a very meaty Ben Affleck.

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Feb 10

Ryan Anderson torture racks the Heat

There were two players who were mainly responsible for the Orlando Magic’s win against the Miami Heat on Wednesday. One of them was Dwight Howard. The other was Ryan Anderson.

Seeing Howard put up 25 points and 24 rebounds against the Heat came as no surprise, given that he’s one of the best players in the NBA and head coach Erik Spoelstra had no one to slow him down. Plus, Howard had already amassed five 20-20 games in the regular season so far prior to facing off against Miami. Howard is expected to be great against any team and was versus the Heat.

Anderson, on the other hand, doesn’t have that same expectation. Yet time and again this season, Anderson has been just that — great.

Miami found out the hard way, as they had no answer for Anderson. Especially in the first half, when Anderson reeled off 24 points (including 17 in the second quarter) in blitzkrieg-like fashion. Anderson was making three-pointers with aplomb, drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line, and wreaking havoc with his offensive rebounding.

It was a dominant performance from Anderson in the first and second quarters, primarily against Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem no less. In fact, Anderson was imposing his will so much offensively that Spoelstra assigned LeBron James (the Heat’s best defender and one of the best defenders in the NBA) to guard him for the remainder of the second quarter. Granted, Spoelstra also chose to play James at power forward because it’s a matchup advantage for Miami.

The point remains. If that doesn’t signify respect for Anderson’s skills, not sure what does.

It’s worth taking a look at what made Anderson’s second quarter surge possible. Two possessions in particular will be examined.

It’s no secret that the Magic like to run pick-and-rolls. As such, for Van Gundy to avoid predictability at times, he injects variety into the pick-and-roll sets that Orlando executes on offense.

SLIDE 1, 2:

In this case, the Magic run a side screen-and-roll but with a twist. With J.J. Redick as the ball handler, Orlando executes a 2/5 staggered pick-and-roll with Anderson and Glen Davis setting the screens. This play is a beauty to watch unfold because there’s a lot of chaos going on. Mike Miller is trying to stay on Redick. Haslem feels the wrath of Davis’ body as he runs into a monster screen.

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Feb 09

Thursday’s Magic Word

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Dwight Howard hears the sales pitch all the time. Team owner Rich DeVos has spoken with Howard to explain why he thinks Howard should remain with the Orlando Magic. Chief Executive Officer Alex Martins talks or texts with Howard almost every day, though not always about Howard’s future. And many of the 18,000 people who pack Amway Center during home games shout at Howard or wave signs or do both. But perhaps few things carry as much weight as the kind of victory that occurred Wednesday night. Fueled by an avalanche of 3-pointers and Howard’s power game near the basket, the Magic beat the Miami Heat 102-89. […] Howard sounded unswayed and, to be sure, he hasn’t said anything publicly that would indicate he has moved off his trade request. And, remember: The Magic split their regular-season series with the Heat last season, but Howard still decided he wants to move on to a larger market.”
  • Dwight Howard is chasing LeBron James when it comes to rings.
  • The Orlando Sentinel make their picks for the All-Star reserves in the Eastern and Western Conference. I disagree with the selections of Luol Deng and Tim Duncan, given that there are more deserving players (Joe Johnson in the East, Paul Millsap in the West, among many others) that should be chosen, but the remainder of the two lists are spot-on.
  • The Orlando Magic have revenge on their mind against the Atlanta Hawks as the two familiar foes prepare to play each other on Friday.
  • Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk: “At his age, DeVos is not a guy who wants to start over with anything. That includes trading Howard for picks and young players and rebuilding the Magic. Even in talks of trade other teams have suggested what the Magic want back are veterans so that the team can continue to win. But what the Magic really want is to keep Howard, for him to look around and see the grass is not always s greener and remain with the Magic. Things like a win over the Heat — which the Magic had Wednesday — can help. But in the end if he really wants out, he can get out. He can opt out and bcome a free agent.”
  • A look back at the Magic’s win against the Miami Heat.
  • Matt Moore of “Orlando did not stomp the Heat. But they did throw them up against the lockers, shook their lunch money out, and bloodied their clothes a bit. The Magic essentially had a two step process. Challenge the Heat at mid-range in face-up and passing situations defensively, and hit a metric ton of threes. It’s nothing we haven’t seen from Orlando before, just against a very good team. The occasional lapse to let the Heat back in it, even as good as Miami is, keeps them from an A, but a very solid performance for Orlando and a huge win.”
  • Chris Sheridan of “It is very rare to see the Miami Heat lose. It is even more rare to hear Rich DeVos speak. Both happened last night in Orlando, where the Dwight Howard trade situation again took center stage in what has been a circus of a season for the Magic.”
  • Howard elbow-chopped LeBron James in the throat last night.

Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.

Feb 08

Recap: Orlando Magic 102, Miami Heat 89

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images


Facing off against an old rival, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Miami Heat by the score of 102-89. The Magic were led by the two-headed monster of Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson. Howard finished the game with 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field (including 7-of-10 from the free-throw line), 24 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks. Anderson put up 27 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field (including 5-of-11 from three-point range and 6-of-9 from the free-throw line), 11 rebounds, and three assists. Jameer Nelson had 12 points and three rebounds, while J.J. Redick had 11 points and four assists. For the Heat, it was a lot of Dwyane Wade, some LeBron James, and little else. Wade amassed a game-high 33 points on 15-of-24 shooting from the field. James was relatively quiet for his standards, finishing with 17 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, and three steals. Chris Bosh chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds. One of the differences in the game is that Orlando got a bit more help from their supporting cast compared to Miami. One of the other differences for the Magic in beating the Heat was that they shot 17-of-42 (40.5 percent) from the three-point line. For Orlando, the 42 three-point attempts was a franchise-record.

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Feb 08

Reaction: Orlando Magic 102, Miami Heat 89

AP Photo/John Raoux

Orlando Magic 102 Final
Recap | Box Score
89 Miami Heat

Dwight Howard
9-14 FG | 7-10 FT | 2 BLK | 24 REB | 25 PTS | +8

One of the reasons why the Magic matchup well with the Miami Heat is because of Howard. There was no one for the Heat that could stop Howard from doing whatever he wanted on offense. But most importantly, it was Howard manning the middle for Orlando defensively that aided in their victory. Miami struggled at times to finish at the rim, while getting out-rebounded in the process.

Ryan Anderson
8-19 FG | 5-11 3P | 3 AST | 11 REB | 27 PTS | +6

Anderson played like a man possessed in the first half, scoring 24 points on 12 shots and making five three-pointers in the process. The Heat had no answer for him, whether it was Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem defending Anderson. He cooled down in the second half but the damage was done. Is there any doubt that this point that Anderson isn’t playing at an All-Star caliber level?

Jameer Nelson
5-13 FG | 2-6 3P | 1 STL | 3 REB | 12 PTS | +13

Nelson had a quiet game but he was part of a key sequence in the fourth quarter as Miami was trying to rally back from a 21-point deficit. Redick missed two three-point attempts in transition, the basketball went out of bounds, but the Magic were able to retain possession. Nelson made a three-pointer shortly thereafter, extending Orlando’s lead to 12 points with 3:54 left in the game.

J.J. Redick
4-10 FG | 3-7 3P | 4 AST | 1 REB | 11 PTS | -4

Like Nelson, Redick had a quiet game on offense but he was able to make an impact in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of his 11 points in the period. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the fact that he aided in Anderson’s second quarter barrage offensively. Redick ran a 2/5 staggered pick-and-roll with Anderson and Glen Davis to perfection, feeding Anderson for a three-point shot on one occasion.

Miami Heat

Outside of Dwyane Wade, no one for the Heat played better than good. Wade was great, annihilating the Magic in the second quarter with 18 points on an array of dunks, layups, and midrange jumpers. Wade was equally effective in the fourth quarter but he didn’t get much help outside of James and Bosh. And it’s Safe to say that James and Bosh, in particular, had off-nights.

Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.

Feb 08

Preview: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic

7:00 ET | Sun Sports
19-6 @ 15-10
Pythagorean Record: 19-6 Pythagorean Record: 13-12
Pace: 93.4 (3rd) Pace: 89.4 (25th)
Offensive Rating: 108.4 (2nd) Offensive Rating: 102.7 (16th)
Defensive Rating: 100.0 (9th) Defensive Rating: 101.7 (12th)
Amway Center | First meeting this season

Feb 08

How does Jason Richardson score?

Up to this point in the season, the most newsworthy item involving Jason Richardson was that general manager Otis Smith inexplicably signed him to a 4-year, $25 million contract during the offseason. Despite the fact that Richardson is 31 years old and, generally speaking, wing players like him that have relied mostly on their athleticism during the prime of their careers don’t age well when they get older. Yes, Richardson can shoot the basketball but he doesn’t do anything else discernibly well. So if Richardson isn’t making any shots, there’s not a lot of other things he can do to help a team win games.

Fortunately for the Orlando Magic, after a rough start to the regular season in which a sore knee really hampered his play (he had to sit out two games to rest and recover), Richardson has played well as of late. Sadly, like Jameer Nelson, because Richardson has been struggling mightily so far this season, he set the bar pretty low for himself to do better.

That being said, it’s always good to learn about how things work in the NBA and in this case, it’s worth taking a look at how Richardson has been able to make a positive impact for the Magic in their last three games.

Typically when Richardson has it going on offense, he’s getting a majority of his points in post-up chances and spot-up opportunities (either in half-court sets or in transition) as well as via screen-and-curls.

SLIDE 1, 2, 3:

Against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, Richardson put on display his ability to use his size and strength to overpower smaller guards. On this possession, after a missed shot by Antawn Jamison, Richardson found himself being guarded by Kyrie Irving — the Cavaliers’ point guard. Hedo Turkoglu recognized the mismatch and promptly threw an entry pass to Richardson. From there, Richardson sized up Irving and made a layup in short order.

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Feb 08

Jameer Nelson and pick-and-rolls

One of the major storylines that emerged following the Orlando Magic’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, aside from Chauncey Billups getting hurt (it was later confirmed that he suffered a torn left Achilles tendon), was that Jameer Nelson played well. It seems silly that Nelson playing well is something of note. In Nelson’s case though, when you’re having — by far — the worst season of your NBA career, it’s news when you’re not performing terribly.

After missing five games due to a concussion suffered against the New Orleans Hornets on January 27, Nelson returned to the floor against the Clippers and looked the best he’s ever been this season. Perhaps it was the time off. Perhaps it was facing off against Chris Paul. Whatever the case may be, Nelson had a bit of extra pep in his step, finishing with 15 points and 12 assists. No, this was not “2009 Nelson” on display. Not even close.

Nelson just looked like a competent basketball player again.

What aided in Nelson’s return from the dead?

The pick-and-roll.

“2009 Nelson” lobbyists and longtime Magic fans know this mantra — when Nelson goes, so go the Magic. To take it a step further, Nelson is at his most dangerous when he’s aggressive in pick-and-roll sets. The key word being ‘aggressive’ because Nelson isn’t always in attack mode. Against Los Angeles, Nelson was the aggressor in pick-and-rolls and Orlando benefitted from his play. Particularly in the fourth quarter during crunch time.

SLIDE 1, 2, 3:

Let’s begin in the first quarter because Nelson got started fairly quickly.

On this possession, the Magic run a 1/5 pick-and-roll with Nelson and Dwight Howard. This offensive set is one of the staples of head coach Stan Van Gundy’s playbook. In any case, Howard sets the screen for Nelson. Paul, likely aware of Nelson’s struggles on offense this season, goes under the screen. Nelson doesn’t take the bait, as he dashes into the lane. DeAndre Jordan isn’t quick enough to recover back defensively and Nelson makes the layup off the dribble.

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Feb 07

Tuesday’s Magic Word

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Sometimes I think Magic fans fail to realize just what they have in Van Gundy, who is commonly recognized as one of the top three or four coaches in the NBA. I’ll even take it a step farther: When Dwight leaves, Van Gundy will be the Magic’s most valuable asset — more valuable than any single player on their roster. True, this doesn’t speak very highly of the roster, but it does speak highly of Van Gundy’s status in the pecking order of NBA coaches. You want to fire Van Gundy? Go ahead. The Magic might actually be doing him a favor. If it happened, Van Gundy would get the multimillion-dollar buyout remaining on his contract and then would either (A) go make a bunch more money as a colorful and controversial NBA commentator like his brother or (B) get another coaching job offer almost immediately. Believe me, there would be wayward franchises (see Knicks) who actually might fire their current coach just so they could hire Van Gundy.”
  • The Orlando Magic are ready to do battle with the Miami Heat.
  • Head coach Stan Van Gundy has been resting players on off-days.
  • Glen Davis, recently suspended by the Magic, and Van Gundy are on good terms.
  • Ryan Anderson is adjusting to life as a starter in the NBA.
  • According to the numbers, Anderson is deserving of being named an All-Star reserve this season. However, the odds of that actually happening are low.
  • Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk recaps Orlando’s loss last night: “The Clippers led by nine in the second half but it was Orlando’s turn to fight back. However, in the overtime Los Angeles secured the lead with a Caron Butler three off a Glen Davis turnover, then next trip down Paul hit a baseline step back rainbow over Howard — how anyone gets that shot off over D-12 is beyond me, let alone a PG. Clippers got a hard-fought win.”
  • Chris Paul has advice for Dwight Howard.
  • Howard played well against the Los Angeles Clippers in defeat.
  • Howard’s big night wasn’t enough against the Clippers.
  • Yesterday’s game between Orlando and Los Angeles was a thriller.
  • Zach Harper of HoopSpeak: “Dwight is a monster on both ends of the floor, but I still feel the same way about this Orlando team that I have for the past four years. They need to be perimeter-oriented in order to beat teams. Dwight’s presence definitely gives you the old school feel of winning from inside-out and punishing your opponents, but the fact still remains that when this team makes eight or more 3-pointers in a game, they’re 14-4 this season. They need to attack you from the outside to win, and finding the balance between getting his team to keep the big man happy while keeping their offense firing from outside is SVG’s biggest task.”
  • Britt Robson of Sports Illustrated: “So why have the Magic fallen from third to 12th in defensive efficiency this season? According to Basketball Value, the biggest culprits are Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Jason Richardson. Unfortunately, quality help is not on the way. Among Orlando’s top 10 in minutes played, only one, sharpshooting forward Ryan Anderson (who is having a breakout year), is under 26.”

Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.

Feb 07

Philadelphia’s folly as a contender

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I like the idea of an underdog team beating all odds, standing in the face of the giant and winning an unprecedented victory. I like teams that share the ball, make the extra pass, aren’t concerned with stats — or anything — but the win. I also love the idea of a team with a few guys you haven’t heard of making a run in the playoffs. It’s why most of us, whether college basketball fans or not, will always watch March Madness. It’s sort of a place where anything could happen.

Now, as an NBA guy, part of me wants to carry over that “anything could happen” mentality to the next level. Part of me wants to know if Philadelphia is possibly for real.

But then reality sets in, and I’m wondering why it hasn’t set in for more people. Folks are going crazy for the Sixers right now, but what is the end game? Will they realistically go further than the second round of the playoffs? Are there those out there who think they will go to the Finals? Maybe I have no earnestness left in my bones, but when it comes down to it, I only care about who can win a championship. It’s why I have such a hard time even watching Magic games this year. It’s not because I hate them, it’s because I have to have the glimmer of hope that a team could make a serious run at a ring. Without that glimmer, it’s pretty hard to enjoy myself.

So when I hear the rabble-rousers stirring things up about how good Philly is, how deep their bench is, how they have the best 6-7-8 guys in the league, and how amazing that is, I tend to think, “Cool. They still probably can’t win a championship.”

Now, for those of you who might still be in “anything could happen” mode. It’s possible but unlikely. I defer to Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, authors of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won, to show you what I mean.

A team with no starting all-star on the roster has virtually no chance — precisely, it’s 0.9 percent — of winning the NBA championship. More than 85 percent of NBA finals involve a superstar player and more than 90 percent of NBA titles belong to a team with a superstar. […]

One first-team all-star on the roster yields a 7.1 percent chance of winning a championship and a 16 percent chance of making it to the finals. A team fortunate to have two first-team all-star players stands a 25 percent chance of winning a championship and a 37 percent chance of making the finals. On the rare occasion when a team was somehow able to attract three first-team all-stars, it won a championship 39 percent of the time and made the finals 77 percent of the time.

The authors aren’t talking about “general” All-Star considerations either. They are talking about first team All-Stars (the book interprets this as a starter), top five MVP picks, or top five salaries. Put differently, the authors aren’t allowing for just any of our favorite players to be labeled All-Stars. This is so you can’t sit back and say, “wait, Iguodola is an All-Star! He’s so good!” He wouldn’t make the cut according to this rubric since he can only be selected as a reserve and wouldn’t be considered a first team All-Star.

So what does all of this mean? Not a whole lot, to be honest. It’s interesting, though, to consider why we get so excited when a team starts playing really well. I for one always look at the end game. When a team starts to heat up, I wonder if they are really championship contenders. For that, we use stats and look to history. In the case of Chicago — they indeed have a first-team All-Star in Derrick Rose. Miami? They have two first-team All-Stars in LeBron and Wade (likely should have been three with Bosh). Hell, even Orlando would have a better chance of winning the championship if they could get into the playoffs.

So forgive me if I don’t jump up and down with you in praise of the Sixers. They are fun to watch, they are young, they are exciting, but their odds of winning a championship are extremely low. You might disagree, but I go by the numbers when I say that, especially when I’m dealing with a team that does not have a first-team All-Star.

Nate Drexler is a contributing writer for Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.

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