Smith comes up big
With Nikola Vucevic missing his fifth straight game with a groin injury, the Orlando Magic needed to turn to some unlikely sources for a big boost.
Jason Smith, who has been a consistent, somewhat calming player for the Magic's reserve unit, unleashed his best game of the season, notching a monster 25-point, 13-rebound double-double in Orlando's victory over the Denver Nuggets. Smith, who's previous season high was 16, put on a mid-range clinic in the second half knocking down seven of his nine field goal attempts, en route to an efficient 10-of-15 night.
While Smith's offense production and ability to get on the glass was big for the Magic, his willingness to go the extra step was equally as big.
Smith showed a willingness to get down and dirty, banging around with anyone for an offensive rebound, or taking contact from anyone who would dole it out from the Nuggets. It was Smith's toughness, and willingness to get down and dirty that was the X-factor for a Magic bunch that's sorely missed that this season.
"It doesn't hurt," said coach Scott Skiles when asked if the veteran adds a certain level of toughness or nastiness to the team. "I also think it's a mistake to assume that one guy all of a sudden becomes contagious; it can become contagious, but it might not. That's an element of his game that we like, though."
Not having that toughness is something that's plagued the Magic throughout the season so far. While Smith has shown a willingness to get down and dirty and throw his body around, it hasn't translated to the teams young core.
Aaron Gordon, who got the team going early with 12 first quarter points, thought that Smith's dirty work in the game was huge. "It's huge. J does a lot of little things for us along with knocking down the open shot."
Having a player like Smith is important for a young team. He does the little things and helps show the young players the work ethic that's needed to make it in the league. While he might not play the biggest role on the team, his importance to the team is there.
"He consistently makes the right play," said Gordon.
That's what the Magic need as they look to improve and build some momentum as the season winds down.
Answering the run
Up 18 late in the third quarter, the Magic became relaxed, allowing the Nuggets to conclude the quarter on a 16-4 run to cut the lead down to six.
The Magic didn't waver, however, answering the run early in the fourth quarter to push the lead back up to double digits.
While they've been able to do that some, playing with a lead has been somewhat of an issue for the Magic this season, as they've consistently struggled to play with the same energy level that got them their first half leads.
"It was good," said Skiles when asked about his team answering the run. "We had good energy tonight, particularly in the first half and then came out in the third and kind of carried it through and built a nice lead. Then we had like three or four possessions in a row where we actually played pretty good "D," got a stop, pushed it and we came up empty handed and then they scored.
"I think they scored maybe 10, 11 points in a row, something like that, but then we battled back. It was a game we had to win and we were able to get it."
Responding to the Nuggets run was a welcoming sign for the Magic who folded after the Portland Trail Blazers went on a big run on Saturday night. They responded and were able to show the grit that has helped aid them to victories earlier this season.
Jason Smith echoed what his coach said, saying it was good the team responded. "We gave ourselves a good opportunity to win... We know that we have to have consistent effort like that every night and it will be a good opportunity for us to try and display that tomorrow in charlotte."
Tuesday night's win showed the Magic they can do it, even when things aren't going perfect all the time. They were able to grind one out after leading comfortably for most of the night, something a week ago they may not have done.