Payton brings a spark
After helping spark the Orlando Magic to a victory on Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, rookie point guard Elfrid Payton helped keep the Magic execute their offense Saturday as they hosted the Miami Heat, and stay in the game despite their struggles on both ends. Payton, who started the team's first 10 games, had been struggling some to find a rhythm after putting together a few strong games early. Coming off the bench for the fourth time in Charlotte did the trick, as Payton registered a career-high 16 points.
Against the Heat, Payton looked poised running the offense, and ready to pounce on every opportunity on the defensive end. Payton terrorized Shabazz Napier all night, registering an early season-high five steals to go along with nine points, three rebounds, and four assists. Payton was on the floor late and paired in the backcourt with Victor Oladipo, something that hurt the Magic offense most of the night.
Coach Jacque Vaughn was relatively pleased with his rookie point guard, saying that he thought his approach "has been good on both ends of the floor." Vaughn also talked some about Payton's development, saying that some of it "comes with being on the floor and off the floor." The third year coach said, "You can learn a lot by sitting and watching, whether it's film work or whether it's watching the guy in front of you. The game unfolds pretty fast sometimes [and] by watching you get a chance to slow it down and see how you can be effective."
Payton has a lot of work to do still, but the last few nights are good building blocks, and a possible view into what he can really bring to the floor. He looked more comfortable on the offensive end, and was effective when he did attack the basket, showing off a floater that could become deadly should he choose to go to it more. His shooting from the outside and from the free throw line still needs work, but with some tender love and care, the Magic may iron out his mechanics and make him at least a threat shooting the ball.
When you lose a nearly 19-point-a-night guy, it's tough to make up. On Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, the team struggled without Evan Fournier, who's averaging nearly 18 points a game, and it really missed Tobias Harris' services on Saturday night. Harris' versatility and scoring were much needed, and the team seemed to lack that oomph on the offensive end.
Before the game, Harris took a few minutes to talk to the media about his strained calf. He said that he was feeling it while warming up for the game in Charlotte, but decided to give it a go that night anyway. Harris also said that he considered telling Coach Vaughn about it after the first quarter, but decided to continue to play through it. As he put it, the injury is just a strain, and he's "day-to-day." The hope is he'll be ready to go agains the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, but it playing so soon be a long shot for the high-scoring wing.
Having Harris available against Miami, which starts the floor-spacing Shawne Williams at power forward, would have been huge. When the offense became extremely stagnant for stretches, having someone like Harris could have gotten them going again. The injury shouldn't keep Harris on the sideline too long, but, if it does, the Magic could be in trouble. They lack wing depth, and Harris has proven to be their best go-to scorer and creator this season.
- Maurice Harkless needs to play more. Plain and simple. There's no reason for Willie Green to be playing almost 31 minutes in a game where Harkless' length could have combatted that of Orlando's opponent. Harkless may have some more developing to do, but not playing consistent minutes isn't going to help him grow as a player.
- Orlando dominated in the painted area, winning the points-in-the-paint battle by a 52-26 margin, but Miami's 27-point edge in three-point shooting proved to be too much. Orlando also outscored the Heat 19-6 in second-chance points, 13-4 in fast-break points, and by a 19-13 mark from the free throw line.
- Nikola Vucevic's 11 offensive rebounds tied a career-high that he set against the Heat in his 29-rebound performance in his first Magic season. Vucevic grabbed more offensive rebounds than the Heat as a whole, 11-7, and the Magic grabbed 18 as a team. Oladipo joked after the game that he had no idea how Vucevic was such a good rebounder when he barely jumps.