Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 90

Apr 13

Meet Ish Smith

There’s a certain fetishism with back-up players. For whatever reason, sports fans like to root for the underdog or unsung player on their favorite team.

Last season, there were people within the Magic fanbase asking for head coach Stan Van Gundy to start Gilbert Arenas over Jameer Nelson at point guard or to #FreeEarlClark. The problem, more often than not, is that the back-up player in question isn’t better than the starter he’s replacing or he’s not good enough to warrant more playing time. That was the case for Arenas and Clark last season.

Arenas wasn’t better than Nelson and he rarely played well enough for it to make sense for him to take on a bigger role, while Clark was just never good enough to earn a permanent spot in Van Gundy’s rotation. Especially when you consider that Clark was playing behind Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson. In Clark’s case this season, not only is he playing behind Anderson and Glen Davis but he’s proven that he’s a bad player and probably more suited for the D-League at this stage in his career.

However, there are instances in which a back-up player deserves a chance to play more. Like Ish Smith.

It’s no secret that Magic fans have grown tired of Chris Duhon, originally brought in by general manager Otis Smith last season to back-up Jameer Nelson at point guard. Make no mistake, Duhon was terrible — he turned the ball over way too much, showed a hesitancy to shoot the basketball, and dragged the pace down for the Orlando Magic. Eventually, Arenas replaced Duhon as the back-up point guard. Arenas wasn’t any better, though. This season, Duhon has been better, showing a renewed confidence in his shot, which has reflected in his numbers. But Duhon is still dealing with turnovers and he continues to play at a snail’s pace, which is undermining his ability to make a positive impact in games despite his improved shooting and efficiency on offense.

With Smith showing flashes of competency whenever he’s had a chance to play this season for the Magic, Duhon’s days serving as the back-up point guard appeared to be numbered. And they might be, given that Smith has taken over as the back-up point guard to Nelson for the time being.

So what has Smith done to convince head coach Stan Van Gundy to give him a shot?

Smith has been assertive and aggressive offensively, while also taking care of the ball. In essence, he’s been almost the exact opposite of Duhon.

_______

One of the first things that jumps off the page about Smith? He’s fast. The Washington Wizards found that out for themselves on Tuesday. On this possession, after Jordan Crawford missed a three-pointer on the left wing, Smith retrieves the long rebound and is off to the races. The Wizards are about to encounter a one-man fastbreak.

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Apr 12

Fear Boston, not Atlanta, in the pick-and-roll

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

With all the turmoil and confusion in Orlando at this point, a balm for the unsettled fan might be to turn to the postseason. No more griping about drama. No more blame game for defensive lapses and offensive droughts. What’s important is what happens when the playoffs begin. And guess what?

Orlando is going to the playoffs!

Regardless of how good or bad you think this Magic team is, the bigger question about the future is who the Magic will play in the first round?

Right now in the Eastern Conference, Boston, Atlanta, and Orlando are tied at 34-24 in the standings, with the Indiana Pacers ahead of the aforementioned trio by 2 games with a record of 36-22. However, because the Celtics lead the Atlanta Division, they automatically are a top-four seed in the East and currently sit at the No. 4 seed. As for the Hawks, because they will win the season series against the Magic regardless of Friday’s outcome, they hold the tiebreaker advantage if both teams finish with the same record at the end of the regular season. Which means, for the moment, Atlanta and Orlando are the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds respectively.

And make no mistake about it, the difference between facing Atlanta and facing Boston in the first round is profound if the chips fall a certain way for the Magic.

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Apr 11

Wednesday’s Magic Word

  • When he’s gotten playing time, Ish Smith has impressed the coaching staff for the Orlando Magic with his quickness and playmaking ability.
  • The Magic may be the No. 6 seed right now in the Eastern Conference, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Why? Orlando would be slated to face off against the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs and have a favorable matchup in that series.
  • Dwight Howard lifts the spirits of a paralyzed boy.
  • Could the Magic have their sights set on Donnie Walsh as a person that could possibly take a front office position within the organization?
  • Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog: “The two men responsible for Lil’ Penny will be reuniting for the first time Thursday, when Rock is a guest on the Bottom Line Sports Show, an Internet radio show that Hardaway executive produces and occasionally appears on alongside the show’s regular host and founder, Gerald Brown. Despite having been linked through the Lil’ Penny character for nearly 20 years, Hardaway and Rock have spent little time together as their parts in the commercials were filmed separately.”
  • Orlando struggled against the Washington Wizards without Dwight.
  • Dwight will likely make his return to the court on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks. Dwight could have played against the Wizards, but the Magic didn’t want to rush him back.
  • Washington’s Kevin Seraphin had a career-night against Orlando.
  • Fran Blinebury of NBA.com is looking forward to the next sequel in “Dwight & Stan’s Excellent Adventure.”
  • Mark Heisler of SheridanHoops.com: “GM Otis Smith is as dead a duck as Coach Stan Van Gundy. Only question is whether Dwight stays — for a season — to break in the new guys.”
  • Tom Ziller of SB Nation: “The Magic need just four more wins to clinch a playoff berth, as they currently sit 5.5 games ahead of the No. 9 Bucks. With less than 10 games remaining, this shouldn’t be an issue.”
  • Dwight is selected for John Hollinger’s all-defensive team at ESPN Insider. However, Dwight is on the second team. Behind Tyson Chandler. Considering the drop-off in performance from Dwight defensively this season and given how much Chandler has changed not only the New York Knicks’ defense but culture, it makes sense.

Apr 11

Recap: Washington Wizards 93, Orlando Magic 85

Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

BOX SCORE

With Dwight Howard sidelined with a back injury, the Orlando Magic were able to get by on Monday without him against the Detroit Pistons thanks in large part due to exceptional three-point shooting and, surprisingly enough, good defense.

But against the Washington Wizards, the Magic failed at both of those things and as a result, they lost a very winnable game.

For the game, Orlando shot 11-for-35 (31.4 percent) from three-point range and 36.6 from the floor. Conversely, the Magic allowed the Wizards to shoot 50 percent, with Kevin Seraphin leading the way for Washington with a career night — 24 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks. For Seraphin, his double-double represented a career-high in points and rebounds, while he tied a career-high with four blocks.

Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson could not stop Seraphin from doing whatever he wanted in the post. Seraphin showed beautiful touch with his back to the basket, sprinkling in righty and lefty hooks on either side of the block like he was, well, Dwight. Seraphin even showed off his range on one possession midway through the third quarter, making a left elbow jumper in a 2/5 pick-and-roll with Jordan Crawford.

While Seraphin was busy dominating for the Wizards, Orlando was preoccupied building a new mansion in Washington with bricks and mortars. In other words, the Magic — after shooting the lights out against the Pistons — struggled to hit perimeter shots all game long. And it wasn’t like Orlando was forcing up bad shots, though they did on occasion. The Magic had plenty of clean looks, especially behind the three-point line, they just couldn’t knock them down.

No shot typified that more than Jason Richardson’s three-point shot late in the fourth quarter. With Orlando down by the score of 86-81 with less than two minutes to go in the game, Richardson attempted a three-pointer on the left wing in transition that would have cut the deficit down to two points and one possession. Yet, even though Richardson had a clean look, he missed the shot and the Wizards eventually held on for the win.

Should the Magic have attacked the rim more to circumvent the lack of three-point shots falling? Perhaps. But it wasn’t like Orlando didn’t attack the basket. For the game, the Magic shot 12-for-23 (52.1 percent) at the rim. Those 23 attempts jive with the amount of shots Orlando attempts at the rim per game (23.1) this season.

No, the Magic’s issue is that they didn’t convert like they normally do. For the season, Orlando’s percentage at the rim is 63.2 percent.

Which brings it all back to Dwight.

This is not to discount Washington’s win. The Wizards came out and played better than the Magic. End of story.

But facts are facts. For Orlando, these are the types of games in which Dwight’s presence would have changed everything. It’s unlikely that Seraphin would have had a career night. It’s unlikely that the Magic would have struggled converting at the rim.

Nevertheless, credit Washington for taking advantage of the situation.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

What else is there to say about Seraphin that hasn’t been said? He took full advantage of Dwight’s absence and put on an offensive display that proves the Wizards were wise to trade away JaVale McGee.

X-Factor

It’s been already mentioned, but Orlando’s inability to hit three-point shots (aside from Jameer Nelson and Quentin Richardson) killed them against Washington, especially with no Dwight to lean on as a safety net.

That Was … Serendipitous?

Losing isn’t fun. But sometimes losing isn’t bad. Confused? With the loss, the Magic are still in line to face off against the Indiana Pacers in playoffs. Not the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks.

Apr 10

Preview: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards
  • Date: Apr. 10, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Verizon Center

Records

  • Magic: 34-23
  • Wizards: 13-44

Probable starters

Magic:

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

Wizards:

  • John Wall
  • Jordan Crawford
  • Chris Singleton
  • Jan Vesely
  • Kevin Seraphin

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.1 (28th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 105.2 (15th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.1 (11th of 30)

Wizards:

  • Pace: 92.7 (7th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 101.0 (26th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 106.6 (25th of 30)

Read about the Wizards

Truth About It

Apr 10

The Magic should choose Dwight Howard over Stan Van Gundy

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

I’ve gone on the record this season saying that I thought Stan Van Gundy was a valuable part of the Orlando Magic and also, recently, that they should fire him sooner rather than later. It occurs to me that these two positions maybe don’t make sense. 

My thinking is as follows.

Either with Dwight locked up long-term or without Dwight at all, Van Gundy is as good a coach as you’ll find. But if the Magic must choose between Dwight Howard or his coach, they ought to go with Howard. I’m not rock solid in this belief because Howard has either caught a serious case of impetuous belle-of-the-ballism or has learned a very good impression of it, but I’ll try and flesh out my hunch that the Magic would be better off giving Van Gundy his walking papers.

The evidence suggests two things about coaching in this league: it matters more than the casual fan thinks and that it matters less than obsessive basketball bloggers think. I believe very much that the NBA is a coaches’ league, but I also think Scott Brooks helms the league’s best team. Look, you want Popovich or Thibodeau on your sidelines, sure. But there are relatively few coaching “geniuses” to be had and in our rush to fetishize technical wizardry, we forget that Doc Rivers used to be a punchline and that Avery Johnson took a team to the Finals.

The science of coaching fit is no more exact than that of player fit — coaches develop their skills and many do better with a certain type of team than others. Any rational observer agrees Van Gundy is the sort of coach who could fit most any roster and that most alternatives are weaker in a vacuum.

But the Magic aren’t facing a vacuum, they’re facing a choice: do you want to keep the league’s best center or a top-tier coach? It seems clear, given how talent is distributed between the player and coach pools around the league, that Howard is the easy choice here.

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Apr 10

Recap: Orlando Magic 119, Detroit Pistons 89

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

BOX SCORE

In 2009 and 2010, blowouts were routine for the Orlando Magic.

In 2011, less so.

In 2012, it seems like the Magic have become more accustomed to getting blown out than blowing teams out. Instead of Orlando dishing out the pain, they’ve been receiving it.

Which is why the Magic’s 30-point victory — their largest of the regular season –against the Detroit Pistons, without Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu (as well as Chris Duhon, who was suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team), was probably cathartic for head coach Stan Van Gundy. Not only because it was the Pistons, a squad that has consistently given Orlando a ton of grief in the Van Gundy era no matter how good or bad they are, but because the Magic have been on the receiving end of quite a number of butt whoopings this season. For Orlando, surely a little role reversal never hurts once in a while.

What made this win particularly impressive for the Magic is that they beat Detroit largely with defense. Without Dwight, mind you. Instead of Orlando relying on Dwight to anchor things defensively, the starting lineup of Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, Ryan Anderson, and Glen Davis were forced to rely on each other to shut down the Pistons’ offense. And they did.

In the first half, albeit with some defensive lapses here and there, the unit of Nelson-Redick-Richardson-Anderson-Davis did a good job of rotating properly and, when needed, providing help defense. Even when Ish Smith, Quentin Richardson, and Earl Clark entered the game in the second quarter, they were able to help the Magic keep the momentum going on defense.

Although Orlando, collectively, couldn’t keep the Pistons out of the paint all the time, the Magic were able to force Detroit into shooting a lot of jumpshots (many of them contested). And when the Pistons did attack the rim, Orlando did their best to contest almost everything.

That explains, for the most part, how the Magic carried a 21-point lead into halftime against Detroit — defense.

Also, three-point shooting.

Orlando decimated the Pistons in the first half with their group of snipers, shooting 10-for-19 from three-point range. Ball movement and dribble penetration (for drive-and-kicks) were the keys to the Magic creating a ton of clean looks against Detroit.

That was the game in a nutshell.

In a lot of ways, this is how Orlando blew out opponents when they were an elite team and championship contenders in 2009 and 2010. Defense and three-point shooting.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

In the absence of Dwight (sore back) and Turkoglu (facial fracture), Nelson stepped up as the Magic’s primary playmaker and carved up the Pistons’ defense with his scoring and passing (18 points and 9 assists).

X-Factor

After Detroit shot 56.6 percent from the floor against Orlando on April 3, the Magic tightened up defensively this time around. With Orlando’s defense playing on a string all night long, the Pistons shot 40.5 percent.

That Was … Payback

With the win, the Magic avoided an embarrassing season series sweep at the hands of Detroit. And Orlando did so in emphatic fashion, combining defense with red-hot three-point shooting (15-for-28) to earn the victory.

Apr 09

Preview: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic
  • Date: Apr. 9, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: Fox Sports Florida
  • Arena: Amway Center

Records

  • Pistons: 21-35
  • Magic: 33-23

Probable starters

Pistons:

  • Brandon Knight
  • Rodney Stuckey
  • Tayshaun Prince
  • Greg Monroe
  • Jason Maxiell

Magic:

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

Advanced stats

Pistons:

  • Pace: 88.9 (29th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 100.6 (27th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 106.7 (23rd of 30)

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.1 (28th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.6 (16th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.1 (11th of 30)

Read about the Pistons

Piston Powered

Apr 09

Au revoir, O-rena

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

On March 25, Amway Arena was imploded by the City of Orlando, putting an end to the building’s 23 years of existence.

One of the first things I thought of when I found out Amway Arena was torn down was something head coach Stan Van Gundy said after the Orlando Magic beat the Philadelphia 76ers on April 15, 2010 when the building hosted its final regular season game. Van Gundy said:

“It’s a building. It doesn’t have feelings, it’s a building. Sorry guys, I’m not going to shed a tear when a building comes down. Unless it’s my house.”

I always thought that quote from Van Gundy was funny. He shared the same sentiment, too, on the day Amway Arena was imploded.

It’s true that buildings don’t have feelings. It’s an inanimate object. Yet it’s also true that people care about inanimate objects. And in this case, people cared about Amway Arena (better known locally as the “O-rena”).

Although Amway Arena was one of the smallest arenas in the league during its time, lacking the necessary amenities needed in a modern NBA arena to create the revenue streams required for a franchise to survive long-term, it had a certain charm. In many ways, Amway Arena’s size was its biggest weakness but also its greatest strength. It fostered an intimate environment to watch a game, with one lower and upper bowl section stacked on top of each other to create a lot of crowd noise.

That intimacy is the charm I’m talking about.

And that charm created a lot of unforgettable moments for me as a Magic fan, especially one in particular.

“It feels good to get in the second round.”
Tracy McGrady uttered those famous words after the Magic won Game 4 to go up 3-1 in their series against the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the 2003 NBA Playoffs. Unfortunately for McGrady, he was counting his chickens before they hatched. Orlando would go on to lose three straight games against the Pistons and lose the series.

Which meant that the Magic blew their chance at making history, which was to become the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed after the NBA expanded the first round from a five-game series to a seven-game series that season (side note: isn’t that McGrady’s luck? The year the league decides to expand the first round is the year he played Detroit and was up 3-1).

Nevertheless, I’ll never forget that series. Not so much because of McGrady’s quote and the end result for Orlando, but because I was able to be a part of that unforgettable playoff experience as a fan. I was there to witness Game 4 in person. And for me, that game best defined everything that made Amway Arena a unique place to watch the Magic play.

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Apr 09

Relying on J.J. Redick in crunch time

On Saturday, the Orlando Magic got a much-needed victory against the Philadelphia 76ers on the road, winning by the score of 88-82 and snapping a season-high five-game losing streak. And the Magic were able to win the game not only without Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu but with Dwight Howard nursing a bad back.

Needless to say, Orlando has J.J. Redick to thank for the victory. Yes, Dwight and Glen Davis were also instrumental in the win for the Magic, carrying the team in different junctures of the game. But in crunch time, it was Redick that took the role of playmaker in the fourth quarter in place of a struggling Jameer Nelson and an absent Turkoglu.

With the game tied at 73 apiece with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter, Redick scored nine straight points for Orlando in the span of two minutes. That scoring spree allowed the Magic to gain a six-point edge on the Sixers at 82-76 with the game winding down. Orlando would hang on for the victory.

Head coach Stan Van Gundy has said many times that Redick is a player that he can rely on and trust. That’s because Redick plays the right way and makes the right plays.

Against Philadelphia, Redick did just that.

_______

In crunch time, needing a bucket to build a cushion against Philadelphia, the Magic relied on a play that they had ran with success a few times previously in the game.

Orlando starts out in their “horns” set with Dwight and Davis at the elbows. Nelson passes the basketball to Dwight and this is where the action begins.

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