Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 92

May 01

Orlando searching for answers on offense

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

By now you’ve heard. The third quarter of last night’s game between the Pacers and Magic seems to have been the series turning point for Indiana. Down a bucket at the half, the Pacers came out in the third and cold-cocked the Magic to the tune of a 30-13 quarter that provided the final margin of victory.

The question going forward is exactly what to make of that run. Was it an outlier or a harbinger? Was it a case of regression — the Pacers just starting to perform how we figured they always would — or was it a case of the Pacers playing exceptionally?

To my eye, there were four reasons the Pacers came alive in the third: 1.) they mauled the Magic on the glass, 2.) they converted at the line, 3.) they snuffed out most of Orlando’s initial actions on pick-and-rolls, and 4.) George Hill began once more to resemble a professional basketball player. Of these, we’ll ignore Hill’s resurfacing, for the simple reason that I have no idea whether he will again net 16 points on 8 shots, as he had at the end of last night’s third quarter.

I’ll focus first on the fouls and the rebounding, because they’re really two sides of the same coin. I hate to point this out, but the Pacers only shot 28 free throws last night, which is a totally reasonable figure for a team playing with the sort of interior advantage the Pacers have. Even though, at times, during the third quarter it seemed there was a whistle on every play, the Magic really can’t argue with a 28-19 free throw disparity in favor of Indiana given the stylistic and personnel differences. The rebounding? Stay with me, because this is where things get grim.

Look, the Pacers are going to outrebound the Magic. Even in Game 1, Indiana was +5 on the boards. The Pacers are a strong rebounding outfit no matter how you slice it — a top-five team in raw per-game rebounding and in offensive rebound percentage. However, they simply bludgeoned Orlando on the offensive glass last night, corralling 37.5 percent of their own misses. While this seems like a shocking figure, nearly 8 percentage points above Indiana’s season average, when you consider the fact that Indiana’s offensive rebound percentage in the Magic’s Game 1 win was 30.6 percent, it’s hard to come to the conclusion the Magic will remedy this situation.

So it’s easy to say that the Pacer’s 15-1 rebound run in the third quarter is an outlier, but in all likelihood, it was just a pretty fast regression to what we’re likely to see for this series.

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May 01

HoopIdea: Coaches booths in the NBA

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

In football, offensive and defensive coordinators routinely watch their own team’s games from the comfort of a booth high in the sky and they call in plays to players and coaches on the field via headsets. Some coaches have access to televisions to watch replays and can make suggestions to the head coach about plays that should be challenged.

In basketball, the assistant coaches (who are crammed between the head coach and bench players) twist their necks in an effort to see around the monsters covering all 94 feet of hardwood. Occasionally, the assistant coaches crank their head skyward to look at the replay being shown on the JumboTron directly above their heads.

Coaches in the booth
One or two assistant coaches from each NBA team should sit in a booth during the game. Like their NFL counterparts, these coaches would be able to watch the game unfold live at the same angle they review the game on tape. Why should they receive their game day information at a different angle than the one at which they review and teach the game?

There is obviously technology available to communicate effectively between the booth and the bench. It may look strange to see Stan Van Gundy wearing a headset, but who cares? The person on the other end of the headset may provide him with priceless information that will improve his team and the product on the floor.

Filling suites
Some NBA teams have struggled to fill all of their suites on game nights in the midst of the tough economy. This has led to some of the best seats in the stadium sitting dark while the greatest athletes in the world showcase their talents on the court below. Moving coaches to the booth would turn the light back on in at least two suites each night and provide a little boost to arena’s struggling to maintain an upbeat atmosphere.

Courtsides seats
Finally, removing two coaches from each bench means that four additional courtside seats will be available for paying customers each night. Over the course of 41 home games, teams would essentially be able to sell 164 additional court tickets. Mix in a few playoff games and moving the coaches to the booth could be a real moneymaker for the league.

May 01

Recap: Indiana Pacers 93, Orlando Magic 78

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

BOX SCORE

In the first half of Game 2 between the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers, you couldn’t help but think you were watching a rerun of Game 1 on NBA TV. After a quick start from the Pacers, in which they jumped out to an 11-point lead midway through the first quarter, the Magic slowly chipped away at their deficit and finally gained control of the game in the second quarter.

Just like Game 1.

Except this time, instead of Jameer Nelson picking apart Indiana’s defense in pick-and-roll sets, like he did in the second quarter of Game 1 to help Orlando jump out to a modest lead, it was the defense and Glen Davis that turned the tide momentarily in favor of the Magic in the second quarter of Game 2.

Granted, the Pacers missed some open shots but Orlando contested almost every other shot attempt. Once again, Earl Clark was one of the leading factors of the Magic’s heightened defensive intensity, coming off the bench and giving head coach Stan Van Gundy productive minutes in the period. It wasn’t just Clark giving it his all on defense, either.

Davis was a man possessed in the second quarter, playing with “no conscious” as he put it during his halftime interview. Davis’ energy and effort was off the charts, both on offense where he reeled off eight consecutive points to close out the period and on defense where the likes of Roy Hibbert offensively. Davis fought like it was no tomorrow and at that point in the game, there was no one for Indiana that was willing to match that intensity level.

Perhaps what aided Orlando the most, though, in the first half was their offensive rebounding and three-point shooting. Although the Magic (31.9 percent) shot much worse than the Pacers (47.2 percent) from the floor in the first and second quarters, 12 offensive rebounds (compared to just four for Indiana) allowed Orlando to put up 11 more shot attempts. And considering the Magic made six three-pointers in the first half compared to zero for the Pacers, that explains why Orlando was able to circumvent poor shooting to carry a 44-42 lead into halftime.

Then the third quarter happened.

For those that don’t know, during the regular season, Indiana was one of the best third quarter teams in the NBA. The Pacers’ efficiency differential in third quarters was +9.0, which ranked third in the league this season (only the Philadelphia 76ers were Portland Trail Blazers were better).

So it should come as no surprise, then, that the Magic were seemingly overwhelmed in the third quarter. Indiana came out with their best punch yet of the series, playing like the “uptempo, power post team” that they should be. Orlando, quite frankly, didn’t know how to respond to the Pacers taking things to another gear.

The key difference in the third quarter?

Rebounding.

Those offensive rebounds that served as a lifeboat for the Magic when they missed shots? Gone. Indiana out-rebounded Orlando 16-4 in the third quarter. That hurt the Magic, as they were held to one shot on practically every possession in the period and couldn’t respond to the Pacers’ extended run that ended up deciding the game.

After a Game 1 loss to Orlando, Indiana responded in kind.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

George Hill scored 12 of his 18 points in the third quarter, serving as the catalyst of the Pacers’ game-changing quarter that helped them win Game 2 (outscoring the Magic 30-13 in the period) after trailing 44-42 at halftime.

Defining Moment

Orlando outscored Indiana 65-63 in three of the four quarters. The problem is that the Magic got beat badly in the third quarter. The Pacers upped their energy level in that period and completely outplayed Orlando at both ends.

That Was … Important

Game 2 technically wasn’t a must-win for Indiana since they weren’t trying to stave off elimination. However, in NBA history, teams that go up 2-0 in a playoff series win 94.2 percent of the time. The Pacers avoid that scenario.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Apr 30

Preview: Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers, Game 2

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers
  • Date: Apr. 30, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: NBA TV
  • Arena: Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Records

  • Magic: 37-29
  • Pacers: 42-24

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Jason Richardson
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Glen Davis

Pacers:

  • George Hill
  • Paul George
  • Danny Granger
  • David West
  • Roy Hibbert

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.0 (29th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 105.0 (15th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.1 (12th of 30)

Pacers:

  • Pace: 90.7 (19th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 106.7 (7th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.1 (9th of 30)

Read about the Pacers

8 Points, 9 Seconds

Apr 30

Jason Richardson’s crunch time shooting

While most people will talk about the Los Angeles Clippers putting together one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history, storming back from a 24-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Memphis Grizzlies by the score of 99-98 on the road in Game 1 of their first round playoff series, lest everyone forget that the Orlando Magic put together a comeback of their own (albeit on a much smaller scale) in their Game 1 victory against the Indiana Pacers.

After Darren Collison made a jumper off the dribble near the left baseline to give the Pacers a seven-point lead at 77-70 with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter, the Magic went on an 11-0 run to — like the Clippers — close out the game and steal a Game 1 on the road.

At the epicenter of Orlando’s comeback was Jason Richardson.

With the score at 77-72 following a difficult floater high off the glass by Jameer Nelson off the dribble in the paint while fading away from the basket, Richardson made back-to-back three-pointers to give the Magic a lead they would never relinquish. And ironically enough, both three-point shots were generated from plays drawn up by head coach Stan Van Gundy following a timeout.

You know, the same head coach that Dwight Howard wants fired.

In any case, Van Gundy’s play designs were beautifully constructed, making use of a player that was having the most success shooting from behind the three-point line — Richardson.

_______

On this possession, with Orlando down 77-75 in the fourth quarter and the game winding down, Van Gundy opts to set up Richardson for a three-pointer to try to regain the lead after Indiana started to take control a few minutes prior.

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Apr 29

Recap: Orlando Magic 81, Indiana Pacers 77

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

BOX SCORE

Heading into Game 1, not many people within the mainstream media and blogosphere were giving the Orlando Magic a chance in their first round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. Pacers in 5 games seemed to be the most common prediction out there. Head coach Stan Van Gundy noted as much before the game.

And it made sense. Excluding their games against the New York Knicks on April 5 and Philadelphia 76ers on April 7 (in which Dwight Howard played), the Magic went 4-8 without Dwight in the lineup. Defense, to no one’s surprise, became a major issue for Orlando. At the start of April, the Magic ranked 10th in Defensive Rating, allowing 102.5 points per 100 possessions each game. By the end of the regular season, Orlando was allowing 104.1 points per 100 possessions each game (ranking 12th in the NBA).

Quite a jump in the numbers in a month’s time.

With little to no interior presence defensively, opposing teams scored over, under, around, and through the Magic. In April (excluding the Knicks and Sixers games), Orlando’s opponent field goal percentage was 49.7 percent. To put that number in perspective, the Sacramento Kings’ opponent field goal percentage was 47.6 this season (ranked dead last in the league).

That’s what contributed most to Orlando’s slide down the standings.

So with the Pacers ranked 7th in Offensive Rating this season, it’s understandable that many people would predict a lopsided series (it still could happen). Who would stop Roy Hibbert? Who would stop Danny Granger? Who would stop David West?

Turns out the Magic, as a team, could — excluding West, who had 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the floor.

With all the talk about Orlando’s defense, it wasn’t an issue in Game 1 against Indiana. For the game, the Pacers shot 34.5 percent from the floor. That was a difference in the ballgame for the Magic and one of the primary reasons why they stole a game on the road against Indiana.

That and also the fact that the Pacers could not shut the door on Orlando when they were up 77-70 with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Magic went on an 11-0 run to end the game, partly due to Indiana shooting themselves in the foot time and again. Two wide open three-pointers missed by Paul George. Two missed free-throws, a missed layup, and a traveling violation by Danny Granger. Failed late game execution — why is Darren Collison taking a long two in isolation down 80-77 with 13.8 seconds left in the game?

And also Jason Richardson.

Yes, Richardson’s 4-year, $25 million contract is an eye-sore because he’s an aging wing player with declining athleticism at the age of 31. But he earned his keep in Game 1 by making two three-point shots in crunch time that fueled Orlando’s sprint to the finish line.

Throughout his career, Richardson has proven time and again in the playoffs that he’s not afraid of the big moment. Thanks to some clutch shooting from Richardson, the Pacers found that out for themselves.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

“J-Rich” was big, no doubt about it. But it was Jameer Nelson’s ability to break down Indiana’s defense (mostly in the first half) in pick-and-roll sets that put the Magic in a position to win Game 1.

X-Factor

When he wants to be, Earl Clark can be an impact player defensively. And he was, as his defense was a game-changer. Clark is lucky that his two missed free-throws in crunch time didn’t come back to haunt him.

Defining Moment

With 10.3 seconds left in the game and down 80-77 with possession of the basketball, needing a three-pointer to tie, Danny Granger had the ball at the top of the key and he traveled. Then this happened.

That Was … Surprising?

There was a general sense during the game that Indiana was expecting Orlando to roll over. You got that vibe from the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, too. Instead, the Pacers found themselves in a fight and lost.

Apr 28

Preview: Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers, Game 1

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers
  • Date: Apr. 28, 2012
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Television: ESPN
  • Arena: Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Records

  • Magic: 37-29
  • Pacers: 42-24

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • Jason Richardson
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Glen Davis

Pacers:

  • George Hill
  • Paul George
  • Danny Granger
  • David West
  • Roy Hibbert

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.0 (29th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 105.0 (15th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 104.1 (12th of 30)

Pacers:

  • Pace: 90.7 (19th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 106.7 (7th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.1 (9th of 30)

Read about the Pacers

8 Points, 9 Seconds

Apr 27

5-on-5 roundtable: Previewing Magic-Pacers

Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

“We all we got.”

Glen Davis came up with the slogan in response to the Orlando Magic’s whirlwind regular season that has been decimated by injuries, punctuated with Dwight Howard needing season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disk.

With Dwight done for the year, Hedo Turkoglu still recovering from facial fracture surgery (he donned a mask for Thursday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies), and Davis — himself — trying to heal a sprained right ankle as fast as possible, it’s no surprise the Magic have taken on a bunker-like mentality. And for Orlando, in a season which has featured a lot of drama and controversy, it’s only fitting that they will be playing with their backs against the wall in their first round playoff series with the Indiana Pacers.

The Magic have been playing with their backs against the all practically all year, what with Dwight’s saga dominating the headlines. But will any of that matter? Does Orlando, with the odds heavily stacked against them, stand a chance against the Indiana Pacers?

The crew at Magic Basketball, with the help from our friends over at Eight Points, Nine Seconds, attempt to find that out.

What is the greatest matchup advantage for the Magic?

Nate Drexler, Magic Basketball: There are few teams capable of truly guarding Ryan Anderson when he’s stretched out. Certainly Indiana has the advantage inside, but if Anderson can stretch things out and catch fire it might create some problems for the Pacers. Then again, with Dwight out and Anderson on the three-point line I have to wonder who is going to rebound the ball.

Danny Nowell, Magic Basketball: Ryan Anderson. “The Grenade Launcher” should be able to draw some of Indiana’s considerable brawn out of the paint and free some things up for a hopefully dialed-in Jameer Nelson. It’s really the Magic’s only hope, as I see things.

Matt Scribbins, Magic Basketball: With the current roster, Ryan Anderson is the greatest matchup advantage no matter who the Magic play. Other teams, including the Pacers, do not have players who can defend a stretch four that knocks down shots consistently from beyond the arc.

Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Ryan Anderson vs. the Pacer starting bigs. Neither David West nor Roy Hibbert are fleet of foot, and a stretch big like Anderson can pull either of them far out of their comfort zone defensively. A big series by Anderson will not only weaken the Pacer D by spreading them out, but could force the Pacers to go small.

Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Ummm … hmmm … let me see if … got nothing. Would perhaps say the coach if I didn’t presume a few of the players hate Stan now and Frank Vogel hadn’t been so good this season. But, otherwise, just not seeing a single advantage for the Magic without Dwight.

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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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