The Orlando Magic improved to 10-4 since their blockbuster trades last month with their 108-99 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night, overcoming a 15-point deficit in the first half with an impressive third-quarter run. Jason Richardson scored 13 of his team-high 21 points in the telltale period for Orlando, continuing his recent stretch of torrid play, while J.J. Redick poured in 21 points off the bench. Orlando got the win despite one of the best all-around performances in Corey Brewer's brief career, as the former Florida Gator led all players with 23 points and 5 steals.
The Magic came out flat, perhaps overlooking the Timberwolves, and simply had no energy in the early stages of the game. As a result, Minnesota managed to score easy baskets and ran its offense with confidence. The Magic got okay looks of their own, but never looked engaged until the Wolves got careless with the ball after halftime, fueling Orlando's rally. On their first two possessions of the third period, the Wolves threw silly passes Dwight Howard managed to pick up, leading to a layup of his own and a three-pointer from Richardson. A trey from Richardson on the Magic's next possession drew Orlando to within a point, putting the Magic in business, so to speak, for the rest of the night.
|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.
On balance, Orlando's probably 9 points better than Minnesota, even when the Wolves have home-court. But this game illustrates a big problem the Magic continue to have even after the trades: they start slowly and count on big lifts from their reserves to get them rolling. Tonight, Redick and Ryan Anderson (15 points and a team-high 11 boards) managed to do that, but that sort of approach won't work every night.
But the victory also shows off the new dimension Richardson adds to Orlando's offense. His ability to run the floor and convert in fast-break situations sets him apart from Vince Carter, whom he functionally replaced in Orlando. Plus, he's a more accurate shooter even in half-court offensive situations. Sure, Carter may have been able to hang 21 points on Minnesota were he still in a Magic uniform. But would he have exploited the Timberwolves in transition, as Richardson did tonight? Because if not, the Magic might not have come up victorious in this game.
Say this much for Minnesota, which stands at 10-31 in spite of franchise power forward Kevin Love's presence: it executed its gameplan for most of tonight, and if I'm coach Kurt Rambis, tonight would have encouraged me. Brewer had his jumper going and the center combination of Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic bested Howard, or at least fought him to a draw; the Timberwolves' pivots combined for 21 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 12 fouls in 37 minutes, compared to Howard's 16-point, 9-rebound effort in 38 minutes. Michael Beasley's absence left the Timberwolves devoid of any talent on the wings apart from Brewer, leaving point guard Luke Ridnour to take more shots (15, a season high) than he really ought to have.
Orlando's defense on Love also merits praise. The third-year forward shot 5-of-12 for 11 points, his third-lowest total of the season. By limiting his offensive rebound chances--he managed 2 in 42 minutes, and based on his season average, he ought to have had t least 5--the Magic didn't let him get easy putbacks or draw fouls inside, thus relegating him to jump-shooting for the most part. I also don't think Minnesota went to him enough in the low post, but his mere presence attracts attention away from everyone else on the team. Milicic got two wide-open jams off out-of-bounds plays simply because Love's man had to honor his jumper and couldn't rotate down to cover Milicic.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Magic's point guard play here. Gilbert Arenas and Jameer Nelson combined for 14 assists and 4 turnovers in splitting the minutes there tonight, and picked their spots effectively. Arenas continues to struggle with his shot, missing 7 of his 9 tries tonight, but I thought he moved better tonight than he did previously. His first basket, a transition layup with a contingent of Wolves defenders trailing not far behind, required him to put on a final burst of speed, and he succeeded. I feel as though he wouldn't have been able to convert the same shot, say, two weeks ago. Nelson took only 5 shots in his 26 minutes, but made three of them. When Richardson and Redick have their outside strokes going, there's no need for Nelson to look for his own shot first. Credit to him for running the offense well tonight. Arenas, too.
Another concern for the Magic, apart from their slow start, is Brandon Bass' poor play. For the third game in a row, he simply didn't have much energy, and his jumper has finally eluded him after 37 games of fair consistency. In these last 3 games, Bass is 10-of-34 from the floor for 24 points, and has tried only 4 foul shots.