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Orlando Magic 89, Memphis Grizzlies 72

The Orlando Magic overcame a sloppy start and mediocre outside shooting to fairly easily dispatch the Memphis Grizzlies, 89-72, Monday night with their best defensive effort of the season. The Magic limited Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies' starting forwards, to 9 points apiece on 8-of-32 shooting. For Gay, the NBA's third-leading scorer, it was the worst offensive outing of his season. Memphis scored only 12 points in the opening period, with 5 field goals and 10 turnovers, due to poor offensive execution; the Magic also had 5 baskets and 10 miscues in the opening period, but the difference there, and throughout the night, proved to be their ability to work themselves to the foul line. Vince Carter led all scorers with an efficient 19 points (6-of-8 from the field, 4-of-5 from the foul line) and Orlando made 27 of its 34 free throws overall to earn an encouraging, much-needed win.

To stymie an offense as potent as Memphis' is quite an achievement, especially considering the rather complex defensive rotations the Magic made. Orlando doubled Randolph from the weak side on each of his post touches, thus putting pressure on Randolph to give the ball up, but also pressuring the remaining defenders on the weak side to make the right reads. And Orlando, which rarely double teams, executed this help-and-recover scheme to near perfection throughout the night.

To be fair, Memphis did its part by missing shots. But the point is the Magic disrupted its offense, time and again, and the young team struggled to get quality looks as a result. Defense keyed the Magic's win tonight, just the way coach Stan Van Gundy prefers, I believe.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Grizzlies 88 81.7 38.1 13.8 28.3 20.4
Magic 86 103.1 48.4% 42.2 27.3 23.2
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

It's not as though Orlando dazzled on the other end of the court. It struggled with turnovers to a greater extent than the Grizzlies did, which shouldn't surprise, given Memphis' standing as the league's leader in forcing turnovers on a per-possession basis. Carter was the lone exception. He shot the ball with confidence, didn't force any of his attempts, and--here are two important keys--managed to shoot on balance with his shoulders squared.

Dwight Howard managed to score 18 points, but the Magic struggled to involve him early. Marc Gasol bodied him outside the paint and expertly denied the ball in the early going, forcing Orlando to either look elsewhere or throw shoddy passes. In the second half, the Magic made a concerted effort to establish him in the post, particularly against backup center Hasheem Thabeet. On the whole, Memphis' swarming defense of Howard proved effective so long as it didn't put him at the line; he missed 8 of his 13 shots, but converted 8 of his 11 free throws. He also got the job done on the glass, finishing with a game-high 14 rebounds.

I believe the Magic really emphasized exploiting low-post size mismatched tonight, but with varying results. They cleared out to allow fifth option Quentin Richardson post up the far smaller, less physical O.J. Mayo inside, for instance. And Rashard Lewis had his shot against the likes of Sam Young and Tony Allen, but Lewis didn't enjoy similar success. Playing primarily at small forward, he shot 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-5 from three-point range. While the Magic want--and, frankly, need--him to shoot a better percentage, I think the sorts of looks he got tonight are more in line with what we can expect for him the rest of the way. Brandon Bass' emergence at power forward has eaten into Lewis' time at that position, which means more play at the three for Lewis.

Marcin Gortat also got extensive time at power forward tonight as Orlando looked to match up against Memphis' power players, who have more size than most. The defense worked, with Gortat notably hustling back to his man in pick-and-roll coverage throughout the night, but I still question the team's offensive ceiling when it deploys two centers with limited range simultaneously.

Ultimately, it's hard to knock the Magic's overall effort tonight. Van Gundy said praise his team's intensity and engagement on the evening, saying "we did exactly what we had talked about today [in practice]." But he also thinks the increased defensive effort contributed to the Magic's turnover trouble, which he called "awful," because the Magic were "still going 100 miles an hour" even when they had the ball. If every Orlando player adopted Carter's patient, measured approach on offense tonight, the rout may have been even bigger.