Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 87

Apr 27

HoopIdea: On tanking and basketball ideologies

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Now that we’re clear of the regular season, dear readers, I think you want to read about something fresh. I’d imagine you’re as weary as I am of Girls and “hipster racism,” of campaign analysis and summer movie previews. You came to this space for something new, and something new I shall provide. That’s right, I have a few thoughts about tanking.

Now that we’re clear of the regular season, it seems likely that the discussion surrounding tanking is probably going to subside some, as teams are no longer jockeying for seeding or playoff odds. But I waffled on the issue several times over the course of the past few weeks, alternating between “what’s the big deal?” to “it is basically criminal that the Warriors will probably get a better pick than the Rockets,” so I figured I’d share my thoughts about the issue as it currently stands.

I think the reason for variety in opinion over the tanking issue is that it’s much more of a bellwether than it is a self-contained issue: how you feel about tanking has a lot to do with your feelings about the structure of a sports league and how entertainment should intersect with the “real” world. I’ll use a controlling analogy for my point relying on political terminology, but I’m more using a shorthand than I am trying to have a nuanced political discussion. So forgive me.

It seems like the tanking issue comes down, more or less, to what I’ll call a “free market” approach to the game versus what I’ll refer to as basketball “socialism.” Again, sorry for this. These words are stupid in this context. I couldn’t really think of a handier analogy.

Free market viewers believe that the league should function, as an entity, to reward the “best” teams — the most financially responsible, the most competitive, the most innovative, etc. A basketball socialist, which I consider myself, believes that the league should function to regulate the product of basketball such that the most fans are happy at any given time. Crucially, neither of these positions can be “incorrect,” because we’re talking about basketball. Whichever you are is just an entertainment and sports preference, so I’m not here to disagree with anyone.

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Apr 27

Orlando’s regular season in hell

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

How did we get here?

It’s a question every Magic fan has to ask as Orlando limps into the playoffs and is slated to win one, maybe two games in the opening round before yet again bowing out to a superior team.

Dissecting an entire season, especially a season filled with such mind-boggling drama, is a daunting task. But one advantage in the case of the Orlando Magic is the clearly defined events that have shaped a season that started with hope and ended in despair, frustration, and turmoil. At the center of these events is Dwight Howard, who played the hero, the grumpy child, the spoiled brat, and the villain all in one short season.

Like every story, barring a few by Christopher Nolan, this one starts at the beginning.

When the lockout ended, Magic fans braced themselves for what was going to potentially be a painful season or at least a confusing one. With the lack of scoring power behind Dwight Howard and the unavoidable truth that Dwight could be playing his last game in a Magic uniform sometime this season, it was anyone’s guess how things would play out.

The opening stretch was pleasantly surprising, if not a little perplexing. After a season-opening barnburner loss against Oklahoma City, Orlando went on to boast a 12-5 record through January 24. The problem, of course, was that there weren’t many quality wins in that stretch. So everyone with a finger on the pulse was wary and predicted the worst was still to come. At the same time, though, the hot start was somewhat unexpected and certainly cause for a welcomed, albeit brief, sigh of relief.

It was not hard to predict what happened next. Through the end of February, Orlando regressed to the mean, going 11-8 after their hot start, bringing their record to a more realistic 23-13. This was not to say that all was lost for the Magic. Quite the opposite actually. But analysts started looking for people to blame and talking about teams Orlando probably couldn’t beat in the playoffs. You’d be a fool to have pointed the finger at Dwight at this point. With the trade deadline still ways away, Dwight was getting his numbers and posting big double-doubles whether Orlando was winning or losing.

At this point, Orlando — for the most part — was still in love with Dwight and praying that he would stay.

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Apr 27

Recap: Memphis Grizzlies 88, Orlando Magic 76

Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

BOX SCORE

Congratulations to you if you stuck out Orlando’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, in which the Magic were beaten far more thoroughly than the 88-76 score suggested. Now granted, the Magic started Hedo Turkoglu, Earl Clark, Chris Duhon, Von Wafer, and Daniel Orton. So we were never going to learn that much. But if there’s one thing to take away from this game, it’s this: it sure was on the schedule and some players sure did play it.

Sorry, guys. Totally didn’t mean to be glib. Some things definitely happened in this game!

Such as the Grizzlies coming out with all the focus that you’d imagine they would with first round home-court advantage in the balance and summarily blowing the Magic out for the first half. I did not write it down, but I’m pretty sure the Magic had nine points at the end of the first quarter. (UPDATE: I checked. Nine points.) The Grizzlies started Zach Randolph to test his legs before the playoffs started, and their ability to consistently run the offense through Randolph and Marc Gasol was the difference on a night when Justin Harper played what seemed like many hours worth of minutes.

Actually, you know what?

Justin Harper acquitted himself nicely, especially for somebody whose existence was a coin toss for me at tip-off. Although he shot 2-for-eleventyjabillion from three-point range, he was active and confident. His play during the third quarter, when the Magic cut the deficit to seven because the Grizzlies were drunk less focused, was a decent indication that the Magic could have a rotation player still developing. He’s still just a rookie, I’m given to understand!

Ish Smith also looked pretty good, and continues to look like a future long-term answer as a reserve point guard. The rest of the Magic were about usual, with the exception of Hedo Turkoglu making his monthly allotment of threes all at once. Thanks a lot, Hedo — not like Orlando could’ve used those LATER. It does bear mentioning that the team brought a strong effort in the second half, even after Marc Gasol stepped back on the Magic’s throat to put their adorable insurrection to rest.

The Grizzlies ought to be commended for taking their best-ever winning percentage into the postseason, as well as the hearts of the blogosphere. The Grizzles are stone cold likeable, and if Zach Randolph can get himself in a groove, they’ll be every bit the handful they were predicted to be at the start of the season. A great sign for them is that Rudy Gay is playing some smooth basketball right now and Marc Gasol is teaching geometry from the high post. Their series with the Clippers will rule.

Like I said, not too much to take away from this game, as four of the top … well, five dudes who will suit up for the first round sat out. A nice effort from some outclassed players, with the benefit of not quashing any hope that Ish Smith and Justin Harper could regularly play professional basketball. Everybody wins! Or, one team won. That team was not the Magic.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

What the heck. Let’s say Harper. Stand up, young man, and get recognized for being a nearby person when Daniel Orton picked up his second foul! Marc Gasol was actually the player with the most value, though.

LVP (Least Valuable Player)

Von Wafer. More like VON OH-FER, amirite!? His chuckeriness shot 4-for-13 from the floor. Oh but, Daniel Orton was pretty bad. Oh! So was Duhon. I just can’t decide.

X-Factor

Gilbert Arenas has shown that he still has what it takes to make aggrieved-looking facial expressions on a playoff team.

Apr 26

Preview: Orlando Magic at Memphis Grizzlies

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Memphis Grizzlies
  • Date: Apr. 26, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: FedExForum

Records

  • Magic: 37-28
  • Grizzlies: 40-25

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Chris Duhon
  • Von Wafer
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Earl Clark
  • Daniel Orton

Grizzlies:

  • Mike Conley
  • Tony Allen
  • Rudy Gay
  • Zach Randolph
  • Marc Gasol

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.1 (29th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 105.2 (15th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.1 (12th of 30)

Grizzlies:

  • Pace: 90.9 (18th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.0 (20th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.9 (7th of 30)

Read about the Grizzlies

3 Shades of Blue

Apr 26

Thursday’s Magic Word

  • Lost in all the chatter surrounding Dwight Howard and his future, Jameer Nelson has a player option for $7.8 million next season. He’ll need to figure out soon if he’s going to opt in (like Dwight) or opt out.
  • The Orlando Magic were hoping to start Game 1 of their first round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday to allow players like Glen Davis (who sprained his right ankle on Wednesday) to rest. Alas, the Magic play Game 1 on Saturday.
  • Chris Webber and Steve Smith of NBA TV don’t give Orlando much of a chance at beating the Pacers in a seven-game series. With Dwight out, that should come as no surprise.
  • Might the Magic and the 1999 New York Knicks have something in common?
  • A post about Greg Kite!
  • Andrew Sharp of SB Nation places Dwight on his All-NBA Third Team.
  • J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson led the way in Orlando’s win against the Charlotte Bobcats last night.
  • Matt Moore of CBSSports.com: “The Pacers not only get homecourt advantage, but the weakest opponent in the playoffs with Dwight Howard out for the Magic. If the Magic don’t rally for an unlikely struggle, the Pacers are in position to get rested before the second round begins.”
  • More from Moore on the worst storyline of the NBA’s regular season: “There’s ridiculous. There’s completely ridiculous. There’s “The Decision” and then there’s this Dwight nonsense. Dwight managed to look worse than LeBron. Congrats, big guy, we didn’t think anyone could do it.”
  • Ethan Sherwood Strauss of HoopSpeak compares head coach Stan Van Gundy to a seal: “Seal Van Gundy is isolated, doomed by those conspiring to kill him. He enters the playoffs lacking the tools for survival, but perhaps immense effort can afford him just a little more time. Poor seal, poor Stan.”
  • A panel of ESPN experts choose Ryan Anderson as the Most Improved Player this season. I don’t agree with the selection. Anderson hasn’t made a drastic improvement. He’s just gotten more playing time to put up bigger numbers.

Apr 26

Recap: Orlando Magic 102, Charlotte Bobcats 95

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

BOX SCORE

The short end of it: by beating the Charlotte Bobcats in their final home game of the regular season, the Orlando Magic clinched the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and are slated to face off against the Indiana Pacers in a first round playoff series.

The long end of it: it remains to be seen whether or not the Magic, without Dwight Howard, have a shot at pulling off the upset versus the Pacers.

If Dwight was healthy, it wouldn’t have been ridiculous to suggest that Orlando would stand a good chance of beating Indiana in the first round. With Dwight in the middle, he would have put a lot of strain on the Pacers on offense and defense. Not only would Dwight have given Roy Hibbert trouble on both ends of the floor, but his presence would have trickled down to the rest of the players for Indiana in every facet of the game. For example, with Hibbert being defended by Dwight, that would have forced players like Danny Granger to really pick up the slack offensively in the event Hibbert just couldn’t get things going.

That’s not to say Granger couldn’t do it but with Dwight being able to defend Hibbert (or, on the flipside, knock him out of the game due to foul trouble) while also being a presence in the paint, the likes of Granger would face some resistance on offense. And that’s all the Magic would need.

Why?

Because Orlando showed little trouble scoring against Indiana during the regular season. With Dwight in the post, Ryan Anderson on the perimeter, and an array of shooters for the Magic ready to snipe away from behind the three-point line at a moment’s notice, points wouldn’t have been hard to come by. With Orlando being able to do what they do best whenever they want (run post-ups for Dwight, execute pick-and-rolls with Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, and Hedo Turkoglu, while simultaneously building off both play types to fuel their perimeter attack), they wouldn’t need to pitch a perfect game defensively.

Likewise, if Dwight was having trouble generating points in the post, the Magic could try compensating by relying more on pick-and-roll sets. Or vice-versa. In essence, Orlando had a “Plan B” on offense.

But without Dwight, not only do the Magic need to pitch a perfect game on defense now that Hibbert and company won’t be negatively impacted by Dwight’s presence but there is no “Plan B” offensively. Orlando is going to live and die with a pick-and-roll heavy offense. For the Magic, there is no Dwight to fall back on.

The Pacers are a different and better team, too, since Orlando’s last encounter with them.

Needless to say, head coach Stan Van Gundy will have his hands full developing a gameplan (sans Dwight) to beat Indiana in a seven-game series.

If anyone is up to the challenge, though, it’s Van Gundy.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

With Glen Davis spraining his right ankle late in the first quarter, other players for the Magic had to step it up offensively. Redick did his part, setting a career-high with 31 points on 9-for-19 shooting from the floor.

Defining Moment

With a win against the Bobcats, who will own the NBA’s worst winning percentage ever if they don’t beat the Knicks on Thursday, Orlando officially clinched the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. What’s next? A date with the Pacers in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

X-Factor

If Redick was the “MVP” of this game, then Ryan Anderson was the runner-up. His work primarily on the offensive glass fueled another double-double effort (24 points and 13 rebounds), which the Magic needed from Anderson.

Apr 25

Preview: Charlotte Bobcats at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Charlotte Bobcats at Orlando Magic
  • Date: Apr. 25, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Bobcats: 7-57
  • Magic: 36-28

Probable starters

Bobcats:

  • D.J. Augustin
  • Gerald Henderson
  • Derrick Brown
  • Bismack Biyombo
  • Byron Mullens

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • J.J. Redick
  • Jason Richardson
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Glen Davis

Advanced stats

Bobcats:

  • Pace: 91.1 (17th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 95.1 (30th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 110.3 (30th of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.1 (29th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 105.0 (15th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.0 (12th of 30)

Read about the Bobcats

Queen City Hoops

Apr 25

Wednesday’s Magic Word

  • Hedo Turkoglu, sidelined for the past few weeks with a facial fracture, is expected to play on Thursday against the Memphis Grizzlies. There’s a chance Turkoglu could come back and play against the Charlotte Bobcats in tonight’s game.
  • The Orlando Magic, playing the Bobcats (the worst team in the NBA this season and perhaps ever), are hoping to clinch the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference with a win.
  • Filling in for Dwight Howard, Glen Davis has thrived at center. Which means that he’s probably better served playing at that position rather than at power forward.
  • Despite a down year, Dwight Howard is still the best defensive center in the league according to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus. He explains why: “I suspect there’s a confirmation bias at play in looking for poor defense from Howard to go with the storyline about his indifferent play during a chaotic season. I’m not convinced the objective evidence backs that up.”
  • And without Dwight, the Magic’s defense has imploded.
  • Bethlehem Shoals of CourtVision: “Some may see his back injury as karma. I see it as a welcome relief and, for Howard, a reprieve. At least this way, he can’t do any more damage to himself.”
  • The Indiana Pacers seem more than content to play Orlando in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs if the current seeding holds (and it should).
  • Mark Heisler of SheridanHoops.com on the Magic: “Just be glad you’re not them: Just lost 10 of 14 as Howard, fuming at organization again, schedules back surgery—so even if they realize they have to trade him, they may not be able to.”
  • Orlando gets a D+ from Britt Robson of Sports Illustrated for their regular season grade. Why? Blame it on Dwight’s never-ending soap opera.

Apr 23

Recap: Denver Nuggets 101, Orlando Magic 74

Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

BOX SCORE

On Saturday, the Utah Jazz punished the Orlando Magic’s interior defense below the rim. Yes, Derrick Favors provided the Jazz with some aerial coverage thanks to a couple of dunks. But for the most part, with Al Jefferson leading the way, it was mostly a ground assault for Utah — footwork and touch were the main weapons of choice.

On Sunday, the Denver Nuggets seemingly outclassed the Magic with their athleticism and racked up 64 points in the paint in part because JaVale McGee could out-jump everyone else on the floor. It seems silly to cite “jumping higher” as a reason for the Nuggets’ victory, but that truly was one of the differences in the game.

For three quarters, Orlando was competitive against Denver, even after Jameer Nelson left the first quarter with a calf injury no more than two minutes into the ballgame. Sure, the Magic had trouble scoring at times, struggling to get things going from the perimeter. And sure, Orlando had difficulty preventing the Nuggets from generating almost all their points at the rim.

But when you consider the Magic, with their three-point shooting ability, are a team that’s more than capable of erasing an 11-point deficit heading into the final period, it’s fair to describe the game as a winnable one.

Then the fourth quarter happened.

More specifically, JaVale McGee happened.

Late in the third quarter, McGee connected with Andre Miller for two alley-oop dunks that were a harbinger of things to come for Orlando.

Needless to say, Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis are players not known for their leaping ability. McGee, on the other hand, is.

McGee can be a caricature of himself on a basketball court a lot of times, but that still doesn’t change the fact that he has an insane leaping ability and Denver put that to good use in the fourth quarter. No matter how hard Anderson and Davis tried, they could do nothing from preventing the Nuggets from throwing alley-oop lobs to McGee for dunks. Head coach Stan Van Gundy even tried to implement a zone defense to slow down or stop McGee, but it didn’t work.

With every alley-oop dunk, the Magic were becoming demoralized and their desire to compete slowly fizzled away. A tied game at halftime turned into a 27-point blowout loss for Orlando, with McGee acting as the catalyst for Denver.

Who would have thought McGee would be the difference-maker?

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Yes, this game was a blowout win for the Nuggets. However, Ryan Anderson (24 points on 9-for-18 shooting from the floor) was the main reason the Magic were competitive for three quarters before things got out of hand in the fourth quarter.

X-Factor

McGee, owner of an infamous “Not Top 10″ list on YouTube, was an x-factor for Denver. You read that right. Blessed with the gift of being able to jump really high, McGee tortured Orlando with an array of alley-oop dunks.

That Was … a Tale of Two Halves

At halftime, the score was tied at 44 apiece. In the second half, the Nuggets outscored the Magic by 27 points. Of note: Denver released the Kraken in the form of McGee and Orlando could not stop him.

Apr 22

Preview: Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets
  • Date: Apr. 22, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Pepsi Center

Records

  • Magic: 36-27
  • Nuggets: 35-28

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • J.J. Redick
  • Jason Richardson
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Glen Davis

Nuggets:

  • Ty Lawson
  • Aaron Afflalo
  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Kenneth Faried
  • Kosta Koufos

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.1 (29th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 105.3 (15th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.8 (12th of 30)

Nuggets:

  • Pace: 94.3 (2nd of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 108.6 (3rd of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 106.4 (21st of 30)

Read about the Nuggets

Roundball Mining Company

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