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Orlando Magic 113, Houston Rockets 104

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It's no secret that Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy demands maximum effort on the defensive end from his players and when that doesn't happen, he'll make it known to his team that they need to "bring it" on that side of the floor - even in the wake of a victory over the Houston Rockets by a margin of 113-104. But before breaking down what went wrong on defense, it doesn't hurt briefly looking at the good things that occurred on offense. Seven Magic players finished the game in double-figures, led by Rashard Lewis, who paced all scorers with 22 points and did so in a super-efficient manner (8-13 from the field, 3-6 beyond the arc).

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Rockets 96 108.3 47.6% 27.1 22.0 12.5
Magic 118.2 53.8% 35.4 15.4 9.4

Starting for the first time at small forward in an Orlando uniform, Lewis played very much like he did during his days with Seattle - with his back to the basket. Many times Lewis was called upon to make something happen down in the low post, and he did, a lot. Using his length and strength, Lewis typically had his way against whichever small forward Houston threw at him. If you remember Lewis' performance in Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2009 NBA Playoffs, it was similar to that, where he got deep post position for a hook shot or for a fadeaway (on the left side of the court, his preference). It was refreshing to see because Magic fans have only seen Lewis' perimeter game - which was on display when he shifted to power forward - and may not know that he is more than capable of setting up into the post and attempting *gasp* hook shots and fadeaways. Lewis' offensive repertoire is diversified and Van Gundy is quickly learning that he has a player who can do it all with a basketball in his hands. It's safe to say that Lewis playing small forward was a success on offense, but on defense, it was a different story. More on that later.

 

Another player that can do it all with a basketball in his hands is Vince Carter and he had his best offensive performance for Orlando, so far, in the pre-season. Carter was not shy when he had the ball, being aggressive as Van Gundy instructed him to do. Carter started out slow, missing a few open jumpers, but as the first quarter progressed, he started to heat up. First, Carter nailed a three off a 2/4 pick & roll with Ryan Anderson, second he dunked the ball after a drive to the basket, and third he dunked the ball - again - after a 2/4 pick & roll with Anderson. It was a mini offensive spree by Carter that got Magic fans off their feet at the Amway Arena and showed the public what he is capable of doing offensively when he's in a groove. For the remainder of the evening, Carter scored in a variety of ways - fadeaways, spot-up jumpers, etc. What's scary is that Carter is getting plenty of open looks around the perimeter but he isn't knocking them down, yet. If/when he does, don't be surprised to see Carter explode for an occasional 35+ point outburst.

 

Other players that continue to impress on the offensive end are Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, and J.J. Redick.

 

For Anderson, it's becoming blatantly obvious that he needs to see minutes on the floor during the regular season because of his abilities to excel on offense. The kid can flat out play. Need a player that can shoot threes? Need a player that drives to the basket? Need a player that posts up? Anderson is that guy. Anderson checked into the game midway through the first quarter and in a few minutes he made a three off a 1/4 pick & roll with Jameer Nelson, made a layup, and made another three after Trevor Ariza didn't run back on defense, leaving a man open. That's eight quick points in an efficient manner. Anderson's willingness to engage in the pick & roll game with whoever makes him absolutely perfect for Orlando's 4-out/1-in offensive system. Anderson definitely has things to work on when it comes to his defense, but his offense is there.

 

For Bass, the main thing that stands out is his ability to shoot the baseline jumper with proficiency. When Bass sets up 15-17 feet from the basket along the baseline and shoots a jumper, it's an almost automatic two points. Seriously. Bass' ability to participate in the pick & roll, post up, and whatever else, makes him a reliable option to go to for Van Gundy. Likewise, Bass' versatility to play power forward or center gives Van Gundy the ability to run 3-out/2-in sets or 4-out/1-in sets, depending on the personnel from the opposing team. Tonight against the Rockets, for a few minutes at a time, Van Gundy elected to play Bass at the five with Nelson or Jason Williams, Carter, Matt Barnes, and Anderson. Needless to say, the lineups worked out pretty well. So did Bass' stat line, which was perfect (6-6 from the field)

 

For Redick, after not playing very well in his first pre-season game against the Dallas Mavericks, he has picked up his play considerably since. Tonight, Redick impressed not only because he scored, but HOW he scored. On two separate occasions in the second quarter, Redick went up for a shot and in Dwyane Wade-like fashion, pumped-fake his defender, forced him in the air, and created contact for two free throws. A veteran-savvy move, to say the least. In the fourth quarter, Redick did a great job of creating off the dribble and driving to the basket - one time he converted an and-one. Likewise, Redick made a beautiful pass off a 2/5 pick & roll with Marcin Gortat to set him up for a dunk. It's clear that when Redick gets a considerable amount of minutes and gets into a rhythm, he can do some things on offense. Redick's ability to create his own shot is imperative for him to have a productive NBA career, and so far during the pre-season, he has shown the ability to do so on a number of occasions.

 

Now the defense.

 

It wasn't good. As Van Gundy mentioned after the game, the pick & roll D was poor but that wasn't all. There were a number of times when help-side defense was absent or late, defenders didn't close out on shooters, and more. Even Gortat, who was one of the few players to play well defensively (6 blocks!), suffered from mental lapses. 

 

Which is where this write-up will come full circle with Lewis because he struggled at small forward, defensively. For example, Lewis would be slow coming around a screen, he wouldn't close out quick enough (as has been mentioned), or he wasn't fast enough to keep someone like Chase Budinger or Ariza in front of him. I don't mean to harp on Lewis on purpose but I was keeping a close eye on him because, let's be frank, his ability to defend other three's will determine how much time he sees at that position. It should be noted that these are some of the reasons why Lewis struggled on defense back when he was with the Sonics. It's clear that Lewis has gotten accustomed defending other power forwards, and doing a good job, because it's different. Those type of players aren't as fast, live around the paint, etc. 

 

That's why the pre-season is valuable for Van Gundy, because it'll show him whether or not Lewis can re-adjust guarding a position he's forgotten about the past two years. 

 

All in all, it was a decent game for Orlando, fortunate because if the team faced a more potent offensive team than Houston, it probably would have been a game that ended in a loss. But it didn't and the Magic are 3-0 heading into next week, where the squad will face back-to-back road games against the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Hornets (in Wichita, Kansas), respectively.