A few observations from the Orlando Magic's 112-103 win over the New York Knicks last night...
With 35:54 minutes played in last night's game, J.J. Redick, as one member of the media pointed out to coach Stan Van Gundy, earned more playing time than any other Magic guard tonight. Van Gundy reflected on that decision.
"He's been shooting the ball great, number one," said Van Gundy. "He makes the fewest mistakes at the defensive end of the floor, so my comfort level with him is very high. He's just not gonna make a lot of mistakes. Plus, he's putting the ball in the basket. He's not going to make many careless plays, he's going to play hard, he's really focused all the time."
But Redick's role is subject to change. "It's going to change from night to night, with those perimeter guys, based on who's going well. But I have a high comfort level with J.J."
Redick's emergence as a key cog on a championship-contending team serves as an example of what average players can accomplish when they work hard enough to improve their individual game and to execute the team concept. But his success also illustrates, on a smaller level, the keys to earning Van Gundy's trust: play good defense and don't turn the ball over are requisites, and if you can score, that's another plus.
Knicks point guard Raymond Felton has made himself a strong candidate for the league's Most Improved Player of the Year awar this season, his first in the Big Apple; Tim Povtak of AOL FanHouse profiled Felton in this space recently. Bt he had a game to forget against the Magic, missing 14 of his team-high 22 shot attempts and tying a season-worst with 6 turnovers. I asked Jameer Nelson, who battled Felton individually in the Magic's first-round playoff series against the Charlotte Bobcats last spring, what he saw from Felton Thuesday night.
"He was really aggressive. I just wanted to stay in front of him and not rely on help [defense] as much," Nelson said. "I'm trying to become a 'better defender'"--he made air-quotation marks with his fingers as he said those words--"so I just gotta stay out there. Whatever I have to do to stay in front of my guy, I'm gonna try to do. Just play guys tough."
Though Nelson did not defend Felton each trip down the court, the Magic nonetheless limited Felton to 8 points on 3-of-13 shooting when the two were on the court at the same time, forcing two turnovers as well.
Perhaps Earl Clark, the 22-year-old combo forward Orlando acquired from Phoenix in the big deals earlier this month, could learn from Redick's example. Clark played just 70 seconds against the Knicks, closing out the first half with Dwight Howard in foul trouble. "Earl's going to be a situational guy with us," Van Gundy said, later noting Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson, the players currently ahead of Clark, are playing so well that it'd be hard to give Clark minutes at their expense. "I don't plan on a nightly basis to go beyond [an eight-man rotation.]"
Van Gundy said the Knicks became more difficult to defense when Amar'e Stoudemire, who scored 30 points last night, was on the bench. "They had Shawne Williams sitting in a corner and Dwight was either gonna have to guard Shawne Williams or Wilson Chandler," Orlando's coach said. "It's a really difficult matchup. They made a couple of good runs at us with Stoudemire out of the game. That was actually their better lineup."
Overall, Orlando outscored the Knicks by 18 with Williams in the game, while New York outscored Orlando by 4 with Stoudemire on the game, which seems to contradict Van Gundy's assessment. However, in a 3:40 stretch of the fourth quarter, the Knicks indeed deployed Williams at center, and he drained both his three-point tries as Howard sagged off him. In this specific run, New York gained three points on Orlando.
Gilbert Arenas, who's a sneaker-free agent now due to adidas' dropping his endorsement in the wake of the gunplay incident in the Washington Wizards' locker room, wore a pair of vintage FILA Grant Hill sneakers against the Knicks; he's changed his sneaker on a game-by-game basis, and has worn multiple brands his season. He explained his choice of Hill's former signature shoe.
"I was going to wear the Grant Hills at home [in Washington] one game," he said, "but for some reason, with our floor, it just wasn't gripping. They were just slippery. So today, the head trainer was going through the shoes like, 'which one should I get?' and it's like a little kid [asking] 'those?!' [The trainer] suggested the Grant Hills because [Hill] played here, so I was like, 'Alright.'"
Arenas, who wears uniform no. 1 to honor Penny Hardaway, another former Magic swingman, said the Hills' grip worked just fine on the Amway Center court, unlike in Washington. He indeed tested them before deciding to wear them in last night's game, though.
Also on the sneaker front: Jason Richardson, a PEAK endorser, wore an all-white pair of his signature PEAK sneaker against New York. In previous home games since Orlando acquired him from the Phoenix Suns, he had worn a white model with Phoenix-inspired orange and purple trim.
Richardson wears uniform no. 23 with Orlando, as he has for every other team for which he's played in his NBA career. But the Magic apparently haven't ordered a practice uniform for him yet, as the no. on his reversible shooting tank, 20, belonged to former Magic forward Mickael Pietrus. Orlando sent him to Phoenix as part of the trade that brought Richardson to the City Beautiful. Pietrus is also a PEAK endorser with his own signature shoe. Funny how that works.
Howard had a red, white, and blue Montreal Expos baseball cap on a shelf in his locker. As a former Expos fan--Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Vidro still occupy a soft spot in my heart--I asked Howard why he had it.
Clad in light-blue designer jeans; a white long-sleeved pullover with red trim; and red, white, and blue sneakers, Howard said, "Just to match my outfit." Though it saddened me to learn I hadn't found a fellow Expos fan, I was nonetheless happy to see the cap remains relevant, so much so that I texted the only other Expos fan I know to tell him the news. He was thrilled.
Point guard Chris Duhon again remained on the outside of the playing rotation looking in, but he did have one chance to shine against his former club. As the teams cleared the court to conclude halftime warmups, Duhon banked in a heave from halfcourt on his way to the team huddle. He smiled broadly and held both hands above his head, triumphant.