After the Orlando Magic lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, head coach Stan Van Gundy sent a message to himself, Dwight Howard & Jameer Nelson, and the rest of the team - win or lose, the defense needs to get better if the Magic want to entertain ideas of being the elite team that it strives to be. Last night against the New Jersey Nets, in which Orlando won by the score of 88-72, was a step in the right direction for the squad. Yes, the Nets were without the services of three of its starters (Devin Harris, Yi Jianlian and Courtney Lee) and that should be noted, but the Magic should not be discredited for its effort on the defensive end of the floor. For perhaps the first time in the regular season, Orlando looked and played like the team that led the NBA in defensive efficiency last year. No thanks in large part to Howard playing like the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Dwight led the way for the Magic, with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Matt Barnes chipped in with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists on Friday the 13th. It was Barnes' hustle and Howard's energy that helped spark the victory.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
In the first quarter, Orlando didn't get off to the start one would have hoped for. New Jersey, winless for the season so far, built a 7-0 margin pretty quick. For a minute, one had to wonder if the Magic were going to show up or not. But Orlando was able to wake up and take the lead momentarily in the period before the Nets regained it. The issue, as has been a recurring theme this year, was defense. The Magic weren't bringing it, defensively, and New Jersey was able to take advantage with easy buckets and open shots. Trenton Hassell, of all people, posted up on Vince Carter and scored. Bobby Simmons, as a result of Matt Barnes not closing out quickly enough, was able to make two threes. One had to wonder if Orlando had it in 'em to play great defense.
Luckily, that's why they play 48 minutes.
As for the offense, Howard was able to get involved early and often in a variety of manners - dunks from offensive rebounds, hook shots from post-ups, etc. Barnes, in particular, did an excellent job on different occasions of finding Howard in the paint and setting him up for a dunk or a hook shot. Likewise, Howard was able to get his counter-part, Brook Lopez, in foul trouble during the first quarter. That helped eliminate an offensive threat from the Nets for a bit.
The second quarter saw Mickael Pietrus make an appearance at power forward while New Jersey went small. The "experiment" lasted half of the period before Van Gundy was forced to sub-out Vince Carter after he picked up his third foul and a technical foul, to boot. Unfortunately for the Magic, with or without Carter, scoring became difficult. Orlando was only able to muster five points in roughly eight minutes of action as the Nets were able to increase its lead to eight points at 38-30. But the Magic were able to finish the first half on a 12-4 run to tie the game at 42 apiece. How?
Orlando was able to ratchet up its defensive pressure considerably, forcing New Jersey to shoot 25% from the field (6-24 FG) in the period.
The Magic were able to continue to clamp down on defense in the third quarter. Pietrus got things started, stealing the ball from Simmons after he mishandled his dribble, leading to an easy fast break bucket. Howard blocked shots on Rafer Alston, Josh Boone, and Terrence Williams (great help-side D, in this instance, after Williams was driving into the lane on J.J Redick). Barnes was able to force a turnover after tipping a pass. Carter got a steal, which eventually led to a lay-up for Barnes off a dish from Pietrus (shocking, I know). Carter, also, double-teamed Lopez on one possession, forcing him to miss his shot. Hassell, who at that point had gotten a few buckets by posting up, was unable to post up on Barnes because he was being fronted the entire time. Barnes, likewise, ended the period by forcing a jump ball on Chris Douglas-Roberts as he attacked the basket. These are some examples of the defensive work Orlando put in during the quarter to take the lead after being tied at halftime. There were times when the Magic blew an assignment or didn't rotate, but other than that, the defense was impressive.
Finally in the fourth quarter, Orlando was able to put the game away due to the offensive contributions from Carter and Jason Williams. It happened every which way for Carter - a fadeaway jumper off a 2/5 pick & roll with Marcin Gortat, a jump shot in isolation, and a catch-and-shoot three. At that point, Carter was feeling it and capped his scoring flurry with a three FROM LONG RANGE in another isolation set. For Williams, it was vintage White Chocolate in the period. Williams started it off with a jumper off the dribble, then a few possessions later, another jumper, and then on the ensuing possession, a three-pointer that forced a timeout from Lawrence Frank. But Williams wasn't done because after a few minutes passed, he made Eduardo Najera look like a fool, faking a three-point attempt, and making a lay-up that sent the Amway Arena crowd into a frenzy. There were no shortage of "oohs" and "aahs" after that play. But there was more. Mickael Pietrus made the final basket of the evening for the Magic in spectacular fashion, driving along the baseline, and making an up-and-under lay-up that went 'around the world' on the rim before going in.
It was an outstanding way to cap off an evening in which Orlando played great defense for three quarters after allowing New Jersey to drop 27 points in the first quarter.
Player of the game goes to Matt Barnes because he did everything for the Orlando Magic. Everything. Barnes caused turnovers, forced jump balls, tipped passes, and more. Barnes' defense was excellent and he played smart on offense - knowing that his shot was off and as such, making a concerted effort to attack the basket to draw fouls in half-court sets or get lay-ups on fast breaks. Barnes' ability to find Dwight Howard in the paint was crucial, as well, because it got the big fella a number of dunks and hook shots. Truly an excellent all-around effort from Barnes.
All in all, a good win.
Healthy or not, the New Jersey Nets were held to 32.9% from the field and 29.4% beyond the arc. That's defense, no matter how you slice it. With practically the same available roster (except where Courtney Lee played and Chris Douglas-Roberts didn't), the Nets were able to score 94 points on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers on November 6th. Yet New Jersey was only able to muster 72 points yesterday. Credit should go to Orlando's defensive effort for that occurring.
Congratulations, by the way, are in order for Rafer Alston for achieving his first career triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists). Quite an accomplishment for Skip to my Lou, who received a warm welcome from the fans when he was introduced during the starting lineups. Good stuff.
So, the Magic are 7-3 after its first 10 games. That only means one thing.
Welcome back, Rashard Lewis.