Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 72

Mar 15

Replicating the OKC model

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Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Tonight’s game between the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder is very likely to end a certain way. The Thunder are one of the league’s best teams, perhaps the only reasonable candidate, aside from the San Antonio Spurs, to topple the Heat from their throne. The Magic are starting rookies and sophomores while working under the 20-win threshold. There’s room for variance in sports, but we’re unlikely to find it here.

However, as the Magic take the court in Oklahoma City, they will be facing off against more than just an overwhelming opponent. For the Magic, the Thunder are the goal line, the final realization of a plan that will hopefully lead the franchise back to better days.

When Rob Hennigan was hired as the Magic’s general manager this summer, it was a fairly clear declaration of intent. Hennigan had grown under Sam Presti’s supervision in the OKC greenhouse, where the optimal model for rebuilding an NBA franchise from the ground was re-established: hoard draft picks and young prospects who will hopefully pan out, keep maximum financial flexibility, avoid the questionable temptation of signing average veterans to long-term deals, and put your resources into player development. Oh, yeah, and luck into a superstar or two (or three, and trade the third away).

It’s that last part that is the most crucial piece of the puzzle. Fittingly, it’s also the hardest to emulate. It is perhaps somewhat unfair that Hennigan’s execution will ultimately be judged on his ability to stand idly by while ping pong balls are sorted out in the correct way in the correct year, but such is the nature of the business.

Meanwhile, as the Magic wait for a Kevin Durant or a Russell Westbrook to fall into their laps, they have already made several moves in the right direction since their last superstar — Dwight Howard — has left.

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Mar 13

Dwight’s return much ado about nothing

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AP Photo/John Raoux

It’s no secret that both fans and media tend to over-exaggerate, over-hype, and oversell events to create a more desirable vibe. Most recently, it was Dwight Howard’s return to Orlando as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and only days after some controversial comments toward his former teammates.

The media did not have to try too hard to sell this one. In fact, the only thing Tuesday’s game was missing was a national TV spotlight and a two-hour pregame special with Dwight on a chair in a studio publicly retracting his comments and sharing his love for the city of Orlando.

Instead we got a League Pass game, a Lakers broadcast, and a fairly uneventful evening that actually told us a lot about Dwight Howard and our own misconceptions about the way things like this ought to play out.

The lens in which you watched the game probably dictated how you felt after it was over. Fans commonly misconstrue situations like this one to think that this was the Orlando Magic against Dwight Howard. Similarly, they might think that this was Dwight Howard trying to punish the Orlando Magic.

What we really have is Dwight Howard against himself, Orlando against the hard pursuit of rebuilding, and both teams against the ever-present distraction that is the media. These guys just wanted to play basketball, just like they do every night, and eventually they did.

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Mar 13

Grades: Los Angeles Lakers 106, Orlando Magic 97

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AP Photo/John Raoux

 

Los Angeles Lakers 106 Final
Recap | Box Score
97 Orlando Magic

Nikola Vucevic
3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 3 AST | 6 PTS | +3

You have to feel for Vucevic. He ran into a buzz saw. Dwight Howard overwhelmed Vucevic with his mobility and athleticism on both ends of the floor. It was the type of one-sided matchup that people grew accustomed to seeing from Howard when he was in a Magic uniform. Vucevic competed, but he didn’t stand a chance against a motivated and healthier-looking Howard.

Jameer Nelson
9-19 FG | 1-8 3P | 3 REB | 7 AST | 21 PTS | -6

Nelson scored, but it was more by volume than with any sort of efficiency. The interesting part was that he was able to find plenty of success scoring in the paint despite Howard’s presence, usually because he was a step quicker getting to the rim. The problem was that Nelson’s 3-point shot betrayed him and that neutered his effectiveness offensively. That and his six turnovers.

Tobias Harris
7-17 FG | 3-5 3P | 3 BLK | 15 REB | 17 PTS | -4

No. 12 had a double-double and a couple of blocks in a Magic uniform. No, it wasn’t Howard. It was Harris. Wearing Howard’s jersey number in his homecoming, Harris put up a Howard-esque performance. He had the play of the game when he blocked Howard’s dunk attempt from behind, which sparked a fast break for the Magic and momentarily gave them the lead on an Afflalo layup.

Arron Afflalo
6-18 FG | 1-5 3P | 3 REB | 2 AST | 17 PTS | -6

Afflalo had a rough go of it. His defense on Kobe Bryant was excellent, even if Kobe wasn’t too involved offensively as he normally is because of head coach Jacque Vaughn’s decision to deploy the hack-a-Dwight strategy throughout the game. But Afflalo really had a tough time getting himself going on offense himself, which hurt Orlando’s cause.

Los Angeles Lakers

Revenge is a dish best served cold. After losing to the Magic in Los Angeles in early December, Howard got his revenge in his return trip to Orlando, tying his own NBA record for the most free throw attempts in a game with 39. Dwight had a monster game and ultimately had the last laugh at the expense of Magic fans.

Mar 12

Video: Tobias Harris blocks Dwight Howard

Mar 12

Video: Dwight’s pregame introduction in Orlando

Mar 12

Preview: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando Magic
  • Date: March 12, 2013
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Lakers: 33-31
  • Magic: 18-46

Probable starters

Lakers:

  • Steve Nash
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Metta World Peace
  • Earl Clark
  • Dwight Howard

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Arron Afflalo
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Tobias Harris
  • Nikola Vucevic

Advanced stats

Lakers:

  • Pace: 94.6 (4th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 107.9 (8th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 106.7 (19th of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 91.7 (17th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 102.3 (24th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 109.0 (26th of 30)

Read about the Lakers

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Mar 12

Tuesday’s Magic Word

  • If you haven’t noticed already, Tobias Harris now wears Dwight Howard’s old number for the Orlando Magic.
  • I participated in a 5-on-5 today at ESPN.com to talk about Dwight Howard coming back to Orlando to face off against the Magic at Amway Center for the first time since being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers during the offseason.
  • “Magic fans would happily trade losing every game if it meant beating the Lakers.” (via Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post)
  • A look back at how former Magic stars fared in their first game back in Orlando with their new teams. The list includes Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and Tracy McGrady.
  • Both the Orlando Magic and Howard got what they wanted from the blockbuster trade.
  • Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk says the Magic will be fine without Howard: “Orlando’s plan was never to get equal value back in a deal for Howard because you never get equal value moving a superstar. It’s not possible. Try and you end up with Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries on oversized deals. Orlando GM Rob Hennigan made the smarter call — get good again by first getting young and bad. Get draft picks, be smart with them and build that way.”
  • Jeff Zilgitt of USA TODAY Sports was among a throng of reporters that spoke to Howard during shootaround today. Here’s a summary of what happened: “Dwight Howard came to Orlando with talking points and stuck to them Tuesday. […] Howard focused on what the Magic accomplished in his eight season – four consecutive 50-win seasons, two trips to the Eastern Conference finals and one trip to the NBA Finals – and avoided saying anything that would give fans further fuel for disliking Howard and the manner in which he left Orlando.”
  • There’s a billboard in Orlando that is counting down the time until Howard leaves the city.
  • Howard has a message for Magic fans: “I’ve said it plenty of times – I have nothing but love for the fans here. They made me into the player that I am today and I’ll always be thankful for that. I came here a boy and left a man and that’s made me a better person. So thank you to all of the fans who supported me – even throughout all of the bad times. There is a lot of people here who supported me.”
  • Sekou Smith of NBA.com: “Closure. That’s what is on tap for Orlando Magic fans tonight when Dwight Howard makes his return to the building built upon his broad shoulders, the one that was supposed to house the city’s biggest and brightest star.”
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel with an interesting nugget: “Tonight, only one of Howard’s former teams will play for the Magic, point guard Jameer Nelson. Glen Davis is recovering from a fractured left foot, while Hedo Turkoglu is serving an NBA suspension for testing positive for an anabolic steroid. All the rest of Howard’s former Magic teammates have been waived or traded by the organization.”
  • Stan Van Gundy thinks the Magic should retire Howard’s jersey (and O’Neal as well) when it’s all said and done.
  • More from Howard on his time with Orlando: “We had a lot of great memories here,” Howard said. “They’ll never be taken away from me or from the people who supported us. So, I think I had eight great years here. We did a lot of great things. I saw a city go from a team where it was just like nobody in the stands to we got a new arena and we’re a packed house every night to see our team play. It was great to see that. Me and Jameer accomplished a lot here and our goal was to get people to come and support us. We did that.”
  • It’s been a journey of discovery for Howard in recent weeks leading up to his rematch with the Magic.
  • J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.com provide their takes on Howard’s return to Orlando.

Mar 12

3-on-3: Dwight Howard pays a visit to Orlando

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Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The day is finally here. Dwight Howard makes his return to Orlando after getting traded to the Los Angeles Lakers during the offseason. Were the Magic right to send him to the Lakers? Should Magic fans boo or cheer him? Which team is headed for a brighter future?

Our 3-on-3 panel breaks it all down ahead of Tuesday night’s highly anticipated showdown.

1. Fact or Fiction: Trading Howard was the right move.

Nate Drexler, Magic Basketball: Fact. It just wasn’t working out and everyone with a pulse knew it. It’s not going to help you in the long run to hang on to an asset who doesn’t want to be there in the first place. Good riddance.

Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Society: Fact. In a perfect world, many things go differently, and the Magic ride a truly remarkable coaching and talent tandem to a long and fruitful period of contention. But this ain’t that world and the way things soured, moving on was best for everybody.

Noam Schiller, Magic Basketball: Fact. Assuming the alternative was Dwight leaving in free agency. With no apparent chance at keeping him by the time the deal went down, the Magic were facing rebuilding regardless. Jumpstarting the process by one year and some decent assets was the right move.

2. Boo or cheer: What should Magic fans do?

Drexler: I’m not the type of guy who boos. Clever cheer? Sure! Silent treatment? Even better. But booing is a little passe for my taste. It’s the cliche thing to do. That being said, I fully expect Magic fans to boo.

Nowell: Boo. I don’t, to be honest, have much opinion here. Eventually fans ought to cheer Dwight, but booing is within their rights and what I’ll imagine they do so soon after the departure debacle, so let ‘em fly, Orlando.

Schiller: This is a cop out, but I don’t think there’s a right answer. Does an acrimonious exit and a 12 month Dwightmare overshadow a magnificent tenure that included the franchise’s first Finals win? I don’t know. Every fan in Amway Center will have to calculate that for him or herself.

3. Magic or Lakers: Better in three years?

Drexler: Lakers. I’m going to go ahead and assume L.A. will have an easier time acquiring good players in the next three years, and because the draft class next year is so weak at the top, I’m giving the edge to the Lakers.

Nowell: Lakers. Honestly, the Magic are probably better positioned roster-wise right now. But in the history of the league, betting against the Lakers is a sucker’s bet, and with massive money coming off the books in a few years and an extremely lucrative TV deal, I doubt the Lakers fear the tax man as much as we’d assume.

Schiller: Lakers. Barring Dwight becoming the first top NBA player to unprecedentedly leave Los Angeles, and/or the Magic striking gold in the draft, I don’t see how the Magic can build anything to trump the league’s top center and a market to draw any available free agent within three years.

Mar 11

Monday’s Magic Word

  • John Schuhmann of NBA.com: “The Magic clearly should have scheduled more games against the Sixers, who have given them two of their four victories since mid-January. The Amway Center faithful surely hope that No. 5 comes on Tuesday, when that trade-demanding, coach-killing and candy-loving Dwight Howard comes to town for the first (and last?) time as a Laker. The reception he gets should be interesting.”
  • After their rematch with Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, the Orlando Magic wrap up the regular season by playing 11 of their last 17 games on the road.
  • Post-game quotes following the Magic’s win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.
  • Howard apologizes to the city of Orlando (via Sam Amick of USA Today): “In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way. If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media. I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me.”
  • Stan Van Gundy believes that Howard deserves an ovation from Magic fans when he returns to Amway Center for the first time since being traded to the Lakers during the offseason.
  • The Magic outplayed the Sixers down the stretch.
  • Jameer Nelson expects a playoff-type atmosphere in Dwight’s return.
  • Kelly DWyer of Ball Don’t Lie gives Howard credit for finally owning up to his mistakes in how he handled his departure from Orlando.
  • Ben Golliver of The Point Forward: “Howard’s apology will fall on mostly deaf ears in Central Florida. While Howard hasn’t quite reached “LeBron James returns to Cleveland after The Decision” levels of hatred, he’s sure to be treated like Public Enemy No. 1 in his return to Orlando, where the Magic are 18-46 this season and staring down the barrel of a lengthy rebuilding effort.”
  • Howard’s indecisiveness last season hurt him in the court of public opinion.

Mar 11

Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic showing promise

One of the most encouraging parts of this season for the Orlando Magic has been the play of two young big men — namely Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic. Despite being so inexperienced, both have shown nuanced offensive games that give hope for the future. Each has their own specialty on this side of the ball that we’ll take a closer look at.

Veteran in the post
Nicholson is only a rookie, but you wouldn’t think that if you just watched him go to work in the post. His game on the block is versatile, effective, and, mostly importantly, promising.

Nicholson is averaging 0.86 points per possession in the post while shooting 46.9 percent, per Synergy. Pretty impressive for a rookie. Nicholson’s go-to move is probably his reliable hook shot. He can shoot it with either hand, spinning baseline, or towards the middle.

Here are some examples of his steady hook:

Will he roll, pop, or pass? 
As only a second-year player, Vucevic has shown a versatile and savvy pick-and-roll game. He can read the floor well and use his physical gifts to execute the right play at the right time.

He can roll, and use his size to seal off weak-side defenders and utilize his soft touch to finish. He averages 1.07 points per possession, per Synergy. He can pop — he’s one of the better midrange shooters in the NBA, shooting 42 percent from 16-23 feet, per Hoopdata. Lastly, his ability to see rotations on the fly and hit the open man has improved as the season has gone on.

The first two clips are fairly self-explanatory: Vucevic scoring in different ways out of the pick-and-roll. The third clip is probably the most impressive. He gets the ball out of the pick-and-roll and is swarmed by Miami Heat defenders. He calmly sees how Tobias Harris has cut (side note: very intuitive cut by Harris), pulling Jameer Nelson’s defender away. Vucevic then hits Nelson for the open three.

As the season, and for that matter, rebuilding process as a whole go on, the offensive development of these two players is something to keep an eye on. There’s no debate that these two players will play a prominent role in the future of Orlando.

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