The Orlando Magic have played seven of their last nine games without All-Star center and franchise cornerstone Dwight Howard, which has proven both a blessing and a curse. With a herniated disc sidelining Howard, Orlando has gone 3-4, owing mostly to a terrible drop-off at the defensive end, where it surely misses his shot-blocking and rebounding; Howard isn't the league's three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year by accident. But by the same token, Howard's absence has forced the Magic to adapt offensively, and they've changed their approach a great deal with him out.
"We're not trying to do anything different offensively," coach Stan Van Gundy told the media recently, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. "But it's what we don't do. We're not posting up. We're just not posting up. We're pick-and-roll, spread the floor, move the ball."
And that's precisely what's happened. Orlando's has turned into a pick-and-roll heavy attack minus the league's top center, which approach has cut down on turnovers and all but eliminated the team's post-up game, as Van Gundy mentioned. According to data from mySynergySports.com, Orlando has turned the ball over on just 10.7 percent of its plays without Howard, and has run only 34 post-ups in the seven games without him, or 4.8 percent of its plays. All told, the Magic have averaged 0.97 points per play without Howard, compared a season-long average of 0.93 points per play.
Orlando has found great success in transition, which accounts for 10.8 percent of its plays, in scoring 1.32 points per play and shooting 60.6 percent from the field without Howard. In the half-court, spot-up shooters are connecting on 37.4 percent of their three-point attempts.
"There's no selfishness and no agendas and everybody is just playing," Van Gundy said, referring specifically to his team's last two games, both victories. Whether they'll be able to run their win streak to three Wednesday against the Boston Celtics remains in question--as Nate Drexler of MagicBasketball.Net pointed out recently, Boston defends the pick-and-roll better than any team in the league, and the Magic rely heavily on the pick-and-roll for offense--but the great energy and approach the team has brought to the floor lately should give them a puncher's chance against their green-clad rivals.