Orlando Magic 92, Portland Trail Blazers 83

The Orlando Magic's team-wide effort and energy proved to be enough for them to defeat the undermanned Portland Trail Blazers, 92-83, on Saturday night. The Magic, for the most part, executed their offense and got the looks they wanted, but the shots tended not to drop. Just ask Vince Carter, who missed 13 of his 14 shots en route to a 9-point night. Rashard Lewis led Orlando in scoring with 15 points, while Dwight Howard scored 12, blocked 4 shots, and grabbed 20 rebounds, propelling Orlando to a decisive 54-35 edge on the glass. Brandon Roy scored 33 for Portland, including 15 of the Blazers' 20 in the third quarter as they unsuccessfully tried to maintain their halftime lead. Andre Miller was the only other Blazer to make more than 3 baskets; he finished with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Curiously, the Blazers finished wth 7 assists on their 29 made field goals, with 7 different players tallying 1 assist each. For a team that, as Magic coach Stan Van Gundy noted earlier today, can play 3 point guards at a time--Steve Blake, Miller, and Roy--that's a jarring stat.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Blazers 91 91.2 39.1% 28.2 16.3 13.2
Magic 90 102.6 48.0% 25.0 32.5 21.2
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Van Gundy emphasized energy, effort, and focus at shootaround today, but early on, it didn't look like his team responded. Orlando opened the game in an 8-0 hole, coming up empty on its first 7 possessions, which included 3 turnovers. Jason Williams then accounted for 7 straight Magic points to bring them to within 1 point of Portland, which got the Amway Arena crowd, eager for any excuse to go nuts, at least engaged in the game.

Williams' streak seemed to ignite a spark in the Magic, and they played hard, albeit not particularly well offensively, the rest of the night. In his post-game remarks, Van Gundy said his team tended to play too much one-on-one basketball in the first half, and then added, "but we played really, really hard." That really was the story. The same Magic team that couldn't be bothered to play defense Thursday night against the Miami Heat managed to shut down the Blazers' offense, while acknowledging that Portland is short several key players at the moment. Van Gundy's most telling statement of the night?

As a coach, I'm pretty proud of what they did tonight.

And later:

I know we didn't play real well offensively, and I know we turned it over way too much, but there's really a lot more positives in this game than negatives.

Chief among those positives, at least from my point of view, was the fact that all 10 guys who played tonight contributed meaningfully. Carter shot poorly, but drove the ball to the rim, played the facilitator role a bit, and battled on defense. Mickael Pietrus gave Roy about all he could handle defensively. Matt Barnes sat the entire first half, but immediately madean impact in the second, gamely defending Roy with Pietrus in foul trouble while adding 8 points and 4 boards in just 14 minutes. Van Gundy praised Barnes' work this evening as "professional," which is apt. J.J. Redick gave the Magic "a huge lift," in Van Gundy's words, with some timely shooting and playmaking ability. It goes on.

If you want to take the "one play defining the whole game" angle in discussing the Magic tonight, it'd surely be Ryan Anderson's blown fast-break dunk early in the 4th quarter, which he simply rimmed out despite the fact that no Blazer was in sight. Barnes followed up the play and flipped the ball in to knot the score at 70. Barnes' tip just barely made it over the front of the rim, making the play that much more exciting. The teams continued to trade baskets until Pietrus hit a three-pointer to give Orlando a 79-76 edge; the Magic scored 8 straight points after that 3 for an 87-76 lead with 3>32 to play, putting the game well in hand. 4 of the 8 points in that stretch came after offensive rebounds, a further indication of the team's hustle tonight. They also tied a season-high with 11 steals, with Johnson contributing 4 thefts.

I'll try to sum it up this way: were it not for the superstars and the high payroll, you might have mistaken this team for the scrappy "Heart and Hustle" unit of the 1999/2000 season, which won 41 games without any standout players under coach Doc Rivers' leadership. If that sounds like high praise, it's meant to be. Apart from the lax first 4 minutes, Orlando went hard for the entire night, which wore down the Blazers.

But onto the sloppiness and offensive issues: they could have done a lot of damage. Plenty of unforced errors for Orlando tonight, such as Johnson's trying to throw a silly crosscourt jump-pass to Redick in the left corner, or Lewis passing to the tops of Howard's new sneakers with Howard not even looking on one transition possession. Portland, for its part, was opportunistic. On 2 occasions LaMarcus Aldridge was able to strip Lewis, who's usually surehanded, cleanly while Lewis surveyed the defense at the top of the key.

Aldridge, though, struggled offensively. The man Van Gundy deemed the most underrated player in the league missed 5 of his 6 shots and scored 3 points in 30 minutes, while mired in foul trouble. Throw in Martell Webster's awful night (1-of-11 shooting, 2 points) and Joel Przybilla's usual offensive inactivity (4 points, 2-of-2 shooting, 29 minutes) and you've got a situation in which Howard outperformed the other team's entire starting front line by himself.

I give Blazers coach Nate McMillan credit for trying to make things work with the limited assets at his disposal. Not counting the cameos appearances Juwan Howard and Dante Cunningham made, the Blazers had a 7-man rotation. McMillan even went Don Nelson-style bonkers when he shifted Aldridge to center and surrounded him with four guards: Blake, Miller, Roy, and Jerryd Bayless, who probably would rather not see this game tape again. Orlando successfully limited the Blazers not named Roy, as Miller was the only other one with at least 5 made baskets. No one else had more than 3. I asked Johnson what that fact meant about the Magic's defense:

They made an effort to get Brandon Roy the ball in places where it's hard to double [team]. Coming down the stretch, he basically took a majority of their shots, and kinda played into our hands with them being a one-person team. Once he missed a few shots we were able to take advantage of it. He's a great player. But when one player has to carry the load, whenever they have a stretch of missing two or three shots, then hopefully the team can take advantage of it.

More on Bayless, Van Gundy's strategy, and scenes from the locker room after the jump.

Bayless shot 3-of-13 for 10 points, which isn't so great, but that's not why I think he'll be upset after this one. Nope, it's that the Magic picked on him defensively, running isolations for whomever Bayless guarded... even Johnson, who's probably the Magic's 11th-most-talented healthy offensive player. Worse yet for Bayless, it worked. By my unofficial count, the Magic either scored or drew a foul every time they cleared out to attack Bayless. Process that: a team with Carter, Howard, and Lewis--three All-Stars--on the floor, along with the corner three-point specialist Pietrus, is running plays for Anthony Johnson.

Something worth noting from the locker room: Carter's poor shooting night didn't seem to faze him, and I mean that in a good way, not in a "he doesn't care about playing well" way. When asked how players respond to shooting slumps, he said he likes to "just keep shooting," and added that some players tend to over-think and adjust their shooting form when mired in them; he described how he tried to "take a little off" one of his shots tonight because he missed long on his previous one. For him, it was just a poor shooting night, and one that's not likely to repeat itself. Van Gundy agreed, saying "there's not gonna be many 1-of-14s in him" and praised Carter's work on the defensive end.

On why Johnson, and not Williams, closed the game out at point guard:

A.J. was playing well, we had a group on the floor that was playing well, so we just went with it.

This point guard situation reminds me of what happened in 2007/08, when Van Gundy doled out backup point guard minutes to either Carlos Arroyo or Keyon Dooling, depending on how each one had played recently; there wasn't a clear 2nd or 3rd-stringer, as Van Gundy preferred to ride the hot hand, so to speak. With Jameer Nelson due back as early as Wednesday, it appears as though Williams and Johnson will have to do battle for backup minutes. It's quite a departure from training camp, where Williams thoroughly outplayed Johnson and claimed the backup role with apparent ease.

On Matt Barnes' ability to play through a left hand injury he re-aggravated tonight, and what he would have done if Barnes had to come out:

Thank God [he stayed in], because at that point we had Vince with 4 [fouls], M.P. with 4, we're still in the third quarter, and I didn't have another wing guy. It was a tough night to slide Rashard back to the three because they were small anyway. I would have gone with A.J. at the two, but then that still leaves us with no size on Brandon Roy at all at that point. So him toughin' it out and stayin' in the game at that point was huge for us, and a big, big, part of the game.

Matt Barnes, doing the little things. Like staying in the game. Does that qualify as "little"? Probably not, if it means not having to play your third-string point guard at shooting guard against one of the league's best players.

On the back-to-back tip-ins during the decisive 11-0 scoring run in the 4th quarter:

That's what you have to do when you're struggling offensively is you have to make plays like that. You gotta play defensively. I thought guys stayed on the boards, I thought we really defended hard. I know we need to play better, probably, a lot of nights but as a coach I'm pretty proud of what they did tonight.

This is high praise from Van Gundy, who was clearly in good spirits after the game. The locker room, too, was boisterous, which caused Andrew Melnick of Howard the Dunk to wonder aloud if it's the best mood the players have been in after a game all year. Anderson had a laugh about his blown dunk and implored Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel to list him at 6'09" in his game story; Anderson's listed at 6'10". In addition, Howard wandered around shouting nonsense like "LEGION OF DOOM!" (which makes transcribing the players' remarks a tough task), cackled like a mad man, and so on.

The best Howard moment came when he borrowed a media member's tape recorder and leaned into Redick's locker, furrowing his brow in mock concentration on Redick's comments. Redick played along with the gag, turning toward Howard and saying, "You had a question," opening the door for Howard to continue his charade (although I suspect he would have plowed through that door regardless). Howard asked a rambling, incoherent question of Redick--something about Van Gundy's consistency with berating referees for poor calls--who responded with hearty laughter while mocking Howard's interview skills: "Was that a three-part question or a four-part question?" Howard defended himself by saying the media's questions aren't much better.

With the Howard and Redick Comedy Juggernaut still assembled, one of the media members asked them to discuss Anderson's blown dunk. Howard smiled and said, "That's why they're never in the dunk contest."

To which Redick responded, "They?! THEY?!" before excusing himself in mock outrage. Howard offered a sheepish "Oops!" as Redick left.

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