A few observations from the Orlando Magic's 110-105 win over the Houston Rockets last night...
Foul trouble to Dwight Howard, Brandon Bass, and Ryan Anderson kept those three players on the bench longer than usual in last night's victory, pressing second-year pro Earl Clark into action. Clark delivered with energy and made some solid plays, finishing with 8 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes. Though most NBA forwards could post similar numbers if given the chance, Clark's made an impression on his teammates and coach Stan Van Gundy since joining the team three weeks ago after a trade from the Phoenix Suns.
"I thought that Earl gave us a good lift when we needed some big minutes out of him," Van Gundy said in his opening remarks following the game. Later, he was asked to elaborate on Clark's performance.
"I think that Earl is going to be a really, really good player. I really do," said Van Gundy. "He's offensively very talented: he's got great quickness, he can shoot the ball, he can put it on the floor. He is a very hard-working guy. He's the first guy in here every day. He comes in on every off day. Every game he doesn't play in, if you go in the gym afterwards, he's in there working out after games [at] 10 o'clock at night."
Clark confirmed he works out in the Magic's practice facility, also housed in Amway Center, on nights when he doesn't get the chance to play, not that there's any reason we should have doubted Van Gundy's initial assertion. "I get a couple hundred shots up, and come in on off days," he said.
That work is paying off, clearly. "I'm the most confident I've ever been," Clark said.
Since joining the Magic, the rangy forward has played 58 minutes in 6 appearances, which stands in stark contrast to his days in Phoenix, where the Suns hardly used him. Van Gundy said Clark still needs to improve his "defensive principles," and it doesn't look like Clark's ready to assume an everyday role just yet. But before too long, it'll be hard to keep him off the court, if he continues to work hard. Perhaps Phoenix erred in giving up on him so soon; it did not exercise the third-year option on Clark's contract, making him a restricted free agent this summer.
Gilbert Arenas got off to a rough start last night, shooting 0-of-4 from the floor through the first three quarters. But in the fourth, he came into his own a bit and looked more aggressive in running the pick-and-roll, scoring 8 points and dishing a beautiful assist to Howard for a jam. He was in great spirits after the game, flashing signs of the goofy personality that made him a fan-favorite throughout the league during the NBA blogosphere's relative infancy.
For instance, as one Magic player clad in a green blazer left the locker room, Arenas called, "Nice jacket!", obviously kidding. "Is that velvet?" The player responded, "Velour!" while checking his cell phone and exiting. He then called Arenas a loud, unprintable name as the door shut. Arenas giggled. Later, in reference to Jameer Nelson, Arenas said, "He's really short. Like, you guys don't understand how little he is."
The Magic announced a new promotion with Papa John's Pizza after the game. When the Magic win, either at home or on the road, and score 110 points, fans who enter the code MAGICWIN on www.PapaJohns.com will receive 50 percent off their order. Orlando satisfied both those conditions last night, so this afternoon or evening would be a great time to take advantage of this offer.
Arenas, at 6-foot-4, is short by NBA standards. He has to stand on his swivel chair, or on a shelf in his locker, to reach some of his toiletries on the top-most shelf. One Magic player kidded him about needing to do that, to which Arenas responded, "Hey, I'm the tallest guard in here, man."
Quentin Richardson played the final 5:40 of the game. The veteran swingman has fallen out of the rotation since Orlando's December 18th trades, making just five appearances since that time, without scoring any points. That trend continued against Houston, when he missed all 3 of his shots, but at least he could boast having the best footwear of any player on either team. The Jordan Brand endorser wore the vintage Air Jordan I model in a sharp black/blue/white colorway.
Incidentally, Orlando's scored 110 points and won eight times this year. Five have comes since the trades.