Led by Roy Hibbert's career-high 26 points and ability to draw fouls on Dwight Howard, the Indiana Pacers rebounded from a 43-point loss to the New York Knicks by outlasting the Orlando Magic, 97-90, Tuesday night. The Magic's loss is their 5th in their last 6 road tries. A lack of ball movement and questionable shot selection by all but a few players doomed Orlando, which played solid defensively for most of the night. Mickael Pietrus and Jameer Nelson led the Magic with 16 points apiece, while Matt Barnes continued his pleasantly surprising offensive production, with 13 points on 10 shots. Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Vince Carter--the team's highest-paid players--were M.I.A. for the second straight game, shooting 6-of-29 for 21 points. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Magic lost their second straight game to a mediocre team, which can claim its win over Orlando to be its best of the year.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
None of this is to take anything away from the Pacers, who played a great game without four rotation-caliber players. But as Magic TV color analyst Matt Guokas noted midway through the third quarter, 4 of the 5 Pacers on the floor at one point could rightfully be in the NBA's D-League. Hibbert was their only real offensive force, and even then one gets the sense it was just his night. Twice he hit tough, contested jumpers to beat the shot clock. And Howard's foul trouble limited his ability to challenge shots at the basket later in the game, although the officials did allow him to get a bit more physical with Hibbert away from the ball late in the game, with Orlando somehow still in contention despite its turnovers and poor shooting.
Please save your "Roy freakin' Hibbert?!" comments for later, or at least reconsider them. Hibbert's an excellent scorer whose 7'03" frame makes a lot of his shots near the rim impossible to block. His offensive skill is the main reason he's in the league, not his height. What's held him back so far is his propensity to foul: among players who have qualified for the scoring title this year, he's one of 18 to average more than 5 fouls per 36 minutes. Last year, he led the league in that department, with 7.7 fouls per 36 minutes. Tonight, he didn't pick up his first foul until the 10:07 mark of the fourth period, which made a huge difference in the game.
I feel like the tide in this one turned for good when the Pacers got a four-point play about 5 minutes into the final period. Orlando tied the game at 68 less than a minute into the final frame, prompting Pacers coach Jim O'Brien to call a timeout. It went back-and-forth from there until Luther Head drew a foul on Lewis, converted his first foul shot, and then missed his second. Hibbert--not a great rebounder despite his height--snared the miss and the Pacers swung the ball around to point guard Earl Watson, who sank a three-pointer from the right wing, which gave the Pacers an 80-74 lead and prompted the Magic to call timeout.
The Magic have several players in offensive slumps simultaneously, and their defense hasn't been able to get key stops for them of late, despite a generally good overall year on that end. Vince Carter has missed 25 of 30 shots over the last 2 games, which is killing Orlando possessions. Lewis is 4 for his last 17, and ended his streak of games with at least 2 three-pointers made at 19, missing both of his looks from beyond the arc tonight.
Orlando's problems go beyond merely missing shots, though. Ball movement is at a premium. The Magic's offense is at its best when the ball gets into the lane--via an entry pass to Howard or dribble-penetration from a wing--for a kickout to the arc, with ball reversal to the weakside resulting in an open look. It's just not happening now. Perhaps Indy succeeded in lulling the Magic into playing its helter-skelter game, because Orlando didn't look like it ran much of anything offensively tonight. A few pick-and-rolls with Howard and Marcin Gortat, sure, but precious little other than that.
As far as Howard goes, we can at least explain his lack of shot attempts (6 tonight) with foul trouble and three ballhandling turnovers. He also managed to attempt 12 free throws, so he's involved. But he's not contributing on that end. The soft touch he showcased last Wednesday against the Bucks has eluded him of late, and he's fallen back into that bad habit of bringing the ball too low as he gathers himself for a dunk or hook, which makes him susceptible to getting stripped. And maybe it's just my imagination, but he seems to be using more dribbles with his back to the basket, which--and I'm hardly a psychologist--could be a product of his wanting to make the most of his few touches and subsequently overthinking. Again, feel free to call me on that (or anything else I say, for that matter) because I'm not 100% sure here.
I give a lot of credit to Barnes, Gortat, and J.J. Redick for making the most of their limited tick tonight. And I also give a lot of credit to the Pacers for playing some spirited off-ball defense to discourage the Magic from making passes they normally would. This game is bigger than Orlando's three top earners struggling, but that storyline seemed to dominate the night. And were it not for a late flurry of layups and three-pointers by Jameer Nelson to lead a futile Magic comeback attempt, we'd surely be talking about him, too. 16 points on 15 shots for him tonight, boosted by some late lax defense by Indy, and no free throw attempts.
It's strange that at this time last week I wrote that defense was Orlando's problem this year, and not its offense. Of late, the defense has been good-to-great, while the offense has dropped off. Teams go through rough patches like this one every so often, with the less talented ones suffering longer; the 3-31 New Jersey Nets aren't in a "rough patch" as much as they're in a "rough season." Orlando is better than the way it's played lately, and I believe any improvement it makes will have to start at the top. Carter, Lewis, and Howard must get it together offensively. The role players are, for the most part, doing their jobs. Here's what might be the best illustration of that: Barnes and Pietrus scored 29 of Orlando's 90 points tonight, and on a mere 19 shots. They're usually the last option on offense in any combination of players on the floor at any given time.
The Magic make their way back to Orlando to host the Toronto Raptors tomorrow night.