Playing with pace
After a disappointing 84-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers Friday, the Magic decided it was time for a change. As the players put it, they and coach Jacque Vaughn chose to pick up the pace and find more efficient, quicker ways to score. Since laying that egg against the Lakers, the Magic have looked fresh and energized, thanks in large part to their young starting backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo.
Those two, along with rookie swingman Devyn Marble, have not only instilled a better defensive mindset in the team, but also a better flow and pace with the offense. Having those three out there--all of whom have experience playing the point--gives the Magic a lot of options. They're able to push it with three different players, while also moving the ball at a quick, high level.
Not only has the pace increase helped those three, it's also helped Channing Frye, who came to Orlando after playing for the uptempo Phoenix Suns. Frye, who had been in a shooting slump of sorts, got the Magic going early Wednesday against the Houston Rockets, knocking down a trio of three-balls in the opening quarter, and five total on the night, including a big one late to give the Magic a five-point lead. Frye's hitting shots is huge for the team, not only because he can get it going when things may be going poorly overall, but also because making threes is beginning to open up more driving lanes for Payton and Oladipo.
In their last two games, the Magic have posted 102 possessions and, unofficially, 108 against the Rockets. With their current personnel, they're fit to run all the time and get the ball out in transition and get easy buckets. While they still have periods of stagnant play, the fact is that they're playing to their personnel, and doing so has proven to be very efficient. The Magic should continue to play uptempo on a game-to-game basis, no matter the opponent.
Playing without Tobias Harris over their last three games, the Magic have looked like a much-improved team. While they've been aided by extremely high levels of play from Oladipo and center Nikola Vucevic, some improvement has also been from not having Harris in the lineup.
Harris, who is due for what could be a big payday in the summer of 2015, has improved in certain areas of his game, but there's still a lot that he does that hurts the team. His defense has improved, and he's scoring at a more efficient rate from both inside the arc and beyond it. That being said, he's still mainly one-dimensional as a player, which has hindered the team on the whole.
Harris is a ball stopper, and one of the biggest reasons that the Magic offense stagnates so much at times. Even with his improved efficiency, he's continued to take poor shots, and hasn't improved as a passer, like he should've at this point in his career.
With no timetable for his return, it'll be interesting to see how the Magic continue to play without Harris. It's hard to relegate your best scorer to the bench, but, the Magic might reach a point at which doing so proves to be the best option, to allow Harris to help the offensively challenged second unit out.
Odds and ends
- The 120 points scored in back-to-back games marked the first time since 1996 the Magic had accomplished the feat. The last time they did it, they had a stretch of four-of-seven games with over 120 points, with the back-to-back 120-plus point games coming against the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks.
- The Ben Gordon signing continues to prove worth it for the Magic. Gordon is shooting a career-high 46.1 percent from the field, and has given the team a good scoring spark off the bench on multiple occasions. He hit a couple of big shots late on Wednesday, and scored half of his 12 in the final 12 minutes.
- Devyn Marble won't let his struggles on the offensive end dictate how he plays on the defensive end. He's made defense his strong building block over the past few games, and, should he continue to play, could be tasked with guarding the likes of Jeff Green and Kevin Durant moving forward.
- Evan Fournier returned Wednesday after missing the Magic's previous two games with a hyperextended eight knee. Fournier scored nine points in 13 minutes of action. He gives the team more versatility, and, like Marble, another player more than capable of handling the ball when asked to.