In a surprisingly entertaining game that featured 23 lead changes and 11 ties, the Orlando Magic held off the Chicago Bulls, 101-98, to improve their preseason record to 6-0. Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard scored 18 points apiece to lead 7 Magic players in double-figures. And Anderson hit the Magic's biggest shots of the night: a driving layup in traffic to bring the Magic to within a point at 92-91, then a three-pointer from the left wing on the Magic's next possession to give them a 2-point lead they would not relinquish.
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But the Bulls made the game real interesting after Anderson's heroics, as Kirk Hinrich's jumpers continued to keep their hopes alive as they turned the game into a free-throw-shooting contest. Orlando did its part to ice the game, but the Bulls' persistence until the final horn, and the game's competitive nature throughout, made this one about as fantastic as it gets, at least in the preseason.
Tonight, I was most impressed with the way the Magic's newcomers performed. Yes, Anderson tied for the team lead in scoring, and shot an efficient 5-of-9 from the field, but he continues to struggle on the glass, grabbing only 2 rebounds tonight; reserve guards Anthony Johnson and J.J. Redick were the only Magic players to grab fewer rebounds. Matt Barnes did his all-around thing again, with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and just 1 turnover in 24 minutes. He's defending a bit better than advertised, which is a plus. And although Brandon Bass struggled to stay in the game--he fouled out after 18 minutes--he displayed his range (3 midrange jumpers made), tenacity (one wicked dunk in traffic), and handle (he drove past the defense for the aforementioned dunk) on offense. And snaring 4 rebounds, as he did, is impressive given his relatively brief period on the floor.
I've somehow managed to omit Vince Carter's name from the discussion. He played reasonably well, with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, but struggled on the defensive end; his matchup, John Salmons, scored a game-high 19 points and left him in the dust after at least one crossover dribble move.
Indeed, it's defense, coupled with the persistent turnover bug, that will likely be the focus during the Magic's practices this week. They have just two exhibition games left before opening the regular season a week from Wednesday against Philadelphia, which is also excelling in the preseason.
Odds and ends:
Rashard Lewis sat out as coach Stan Van Gundy wants to get a better feel for how his team will perform without him during his 10-game suspension to start the season. Anderson started at power forward in Lewis' stead.
Jason Williams also got the night off, as Van Gundy gave Anthony Johnson another opportunity to make his case for winning the Magic's backup point guard job. He did not acquit himself, missing all 3 of his field goals and both of his free throws in 16 minutes; to his credit, he did grab 1 board, record 2 assists, and play well on defense, though. Still, it looks like Williams has all but locked-up the right to back-up Jameer Nelson.
Nelson quietly had a good game, with 12 points on 8 shots to go with 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 turnovers. He shot just one three-pointer preferring instead to work on driving to the basket and on the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop games. It was a pick-and-pop set with Anderson which led to his crucial trey, and Nelson showed great patience in running it.
Redick tallied 1 blocked shot tonight, a nasty swat of Luol Deng from behind in the lane. He recovered the ball, raced down the court on a 3-on-2 break, and badly missed a pull-up three-pointer in transition.
Incidentally, Redick's block of Deng gave him more blocks tonight than Howard, who earned a donut in that category, while fouling out. Not that there's cause for concern, or anything.
The Magic will face the Indiana Pacers this Wednesday.