In front of 19,057 fans, the largest home crowd in franchise history, the Orlando Magic dropped their eighth game in nine tries tonight, losing to the Dallas Mavericks by a 105-99 final despite a 26-point, 23-rebound performance from Dwight Howard. Dallas shot lights-out from the perimeter the whole game, going 12-of-26 from three-point range to keep Orlando's runs at bay. But Dallas also got some rare interior offense from its center combination of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, who combined to shoot 9-of-10 from the floor for 20 points without having any plays called for them. This Magic team, in the second game of its roster overhaul, clearly has a long way to go on both ends of the court, but Orlando's showing this evening encouraged coach Stan Van Gundy. He called it "a good step forward" from the previous night's road loss to the Atlanta Hawks, and cited no fewer than things he saw tonight his team can "build on" in the weeks and months ahead.
Orlando got 40 points and eight three-pointers out of its starting backcourt of J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson, and Howard turned in a fine offensive performance. At issue? Poor shooting from the complementary players. Newcomers Gilbert Arenas (1-of-6), Jason Richardson (4-of-13 after starting 1-of-9), and Hedo Turkoglu (2-of-11) played tentatively and didn't seem to have their legs under them. Van Gundy said Arenas "especially" is "trying too hard" at the moment, which he believes will change in time: "History tells me that eventually these guys will shoot the ball well."
For Orlando, on what Van Gundy said is equivalent to the second day of training camp, to hang with one of the league's top teams is indeed impressive, and among the nine things he praised was the way his team "fought in the fourth quarter." Nelson also liked what he saw from an effort standpoint, saying, "the last seven [or] eight games before this, a team would make their run [and] we kind of folded, kind of crumbled. We didn't see any of that tonight. Indeed, Dallas opened up a 12-point lead with 4:34 to play, matching its largest advantage of the night. Orlando countered, and a tremendous Richardson three-pointer drew it to within three points with 56.6 seconds to play.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
In close games like this one, it's easy to point to 50-50 plays, especially ones that happened late, as potential game-changers, regardless of the fact that a point scored in the first minute of the game counts the same as one scored in the last. For the Magic, Turkoglu made two such late plays which robbed them of some momentum, and may make him somewhat of a scapegoat tomorrow morning.
With Orando down 6 and 2:43 to play, Howard picked off a Jason Kidd pass and dished to Turkoglu, who streaked up the court and tried to dunk it. But he short-rimmed the dunk, and came up from the miss begging for a foul call which Howard said after the game he wouldn't even have bought.
On the ensuing Dallas possession, Turkoglu blocked a Nowitzki fadeaway jumper attempt--his signature one, off one foot--and, without four seconds coming off the shot clock, jacked an off-balance trey from the left wing which barely drew iron. A make would have halved the deficit to three with 2:02 remaining, but the better play simply would have been to wait and set up in the halfcourt offense.
Those glaring mistakes aside, Turkoglu played a solid floor game. It's clear he hasn't forgotten that if he simply attacks the basket and floats something up at the rim, Howard can get it for a lob dunk, or at least a deep post catch. He does look a bit like the Turkoglu of old, I have to say. To no one's surprise, Turkoglu led the team in assists (8) and turnovers (4). Further, he played outstanding defense on Nowitzki, limiting the MVP candidate to 17 points on 4-of-13 from the floor. Dallas tried to exploit Turkoglu's well-known deficiencies in low-post defense, but Turkoglu battled Nowitzki gamely and forced him to take some exceptionally tough shots.
The Mavericks played reasonably well overall, but I do think the biggest reason for their win is hot perimeter shooting. As Van Gundy pointed out as one example, Caron Butler made four threes in this game after sinking just 19 in 24 games prior to tonight. By my count, Dallas posted an effective field goal percentage of 53.7 on shots outside the paint. Few teams can sustain that torrid shooting pace even when accounting for paint points, which should illustrate just how white-hot the Mavericks shot for most of the night.
I don't mean to sound overly optimistic, or to take anything away from the Mavericks. Orlando's defense is complicit in this loss, without question. Van Gundy attributed the breakdowns to the fact that the new guys haven't "been together in terms of our system." Yes, while second-year forward Earl Clark shot 3-of-3 for 6 points in limited minutes, his inattentive defense off the ball contributed to Chandler getting dunks on four straight possessions in the second period. Playing Clark at power forward and Bass at center compromised Orlando's defense, which is another reason why I believe it's imperative for Orlando to acquire a veteran backup big man who's a quick study in team defensive schemes. As if there's a team in this league who wouldn't benefit from such a presence.