There's no doubt that the pre-season doesn't mean much and the Indiana Pacers were handicapped against the Orlando Magic (who were without Rashard Lewis) but something has to be said for how the Magic have been steamrolling over teams in exhibition play the past few weeks. Last night was no different, as the Pacers were defeated by a score of 117-87. In what's been a continued trend for Orlando in the pre-season, it was a balanced offensive attack that sparked the victory - led by Vince Carter's 21 points (4-12 from the field, 12-12 at the charity stripe). But it shouldn't go without saying that the Magic's defense played an equal part in the win, holding the Pacers to under 40% shooting (3-26 beyond the arc, 12%). With each game (and each victory), Orlando looks more like a team than a collective group of players.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
Given that head coach Stan Van Gundy started Matt Barnes at power forward, it was to be suspected that the Magic would run a number of 4-out/1-in offensive sets and that's what occurred beginning in the first quarter. In two separate instances within that offense, Jameer Nelson netted an open look from three but missed and Dwight Howard got the ball deep in the post but was fouled. It wasn't too difficult for Orlando to put itself in positions to succeed, offensively. For example, Howard posted up in the paint on the left side of the court, faced up, went left around Roy Hibbert using his athleticism and speed, and made a reverse layup. Another time, Howard and Nelson hooked up for an alley-oop that got the Amway Arena crowd to its feet. Shots weren't falling at first, but the offense looked crisp. This was particularly magnified when Jason Williams entered the contest mid-way through the first quarter. Williams quickly asserted his presence, offensively, hitting a corner three and dishing off a nifty assist to Marcin Gortat. Defensively, Williams looked good, making his man work for his points. And Barnes? He matched up well against Troy Murphy, chasing him off the three-point line, and using his quickness as an advantage on defense.
Brandon Bass continues to impress, seemingly making mid-range jumpers in his sleep, and playing effectively within 3-out/2-in offensive sets here and there alongside Howard. Bass didn't play much (roughly 18 minutes), but one has to like a stat-line that reads 13 points (5-6 FG) and 9 rebounds. That's exactly the type of production general manager Otis Smith envisioned when he signed Bass in free agency during the off-season.
But back to Williams, because there's no doubt he will be Nelson's back-up on opening night against the Philadelphia 76ers - he played as well as one would expect him coming off the bench. In the second quarter, Wiliams hooked up Mickael Pietrus for a fast-break bucket, hit another three in classic White Chocolate fashion (coming down the court, launching a quick shot), and made a behind-the-back pass to Marcin Gortat, who proceeded to nail a free-throw line jumper. No offense to Anthony Johnson, a player that performed admirably this past season, but there's no way he brings that type of playmaking ability for the Magic.
In the same quarter, Vince Carter went to work - driving to the basket multiple times and running the 2/5 pick & roll with Gortat and Howard at different moments. Even though Carter didn't convert on his field goal attempts during that timeframe, he did make up for it by making all his free throws when he did get to the line. One should be encouraged that he's being more aggressive the basket and not settling for three-pointers, as he did early in the pre-season.
Early in the third quarter, Howard was much more involved on both ends of the floor. One has to feel for Hibbert because he was simply outclassed against Howard head-to-head; he was blocked on and he was scored on. It happens. As for Carter, he played noticeably well in the same quarter. Carter nailed a three off a 4-out/1-in offensive set, executed a nice drive and kick to set up Barnes for an easy jumper, continued to attack the rim, made a pretty pass to Nelson who made an easy layup, mixed in a runner for good measure, and probably the most important thing, played hard on defense against Danny Granger. Throughout the game, Carter exhibited the effort and intensity Van Gundy has been desiring from all his players. There's no doubt that when Carter puts his mind to it, he's a net positive for Orlando on the defensive end. Without question.
What else is there to say? Let's be frank, the Magic are stacked. This was blatantly obvious against Indiana, especially when the second unit came into the game for Orlando, because there were a number of starting-quality players coming off the bench throughout the evening - Anderson, Bass, Gortat, etc. When the starters left the game in the fourth quarter, the reserves didn't miss a beat. Four players didn't start, yet scored in double-figures. The depth on the Magic is remarkable and don't be surprised if the shear mass of talent simply overwhelms some opponents during the regular season.
Orlando has one more game in the pre-season against the Atlanta Hawks, a divisional rival, on Friday. The game is on ESPN so if you haven't been able to see the new-look Magic, you'll have your chance to do so in two days.