With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
For the first time ever in this space we’re crowning a duo as our winner(s) of the week. Across a surprisingly competitive slate of games, the Magic were buoyed by the play of two veteran presences, namely Gary Harris and Terrence Ross. The scoring punch and offensive direction they collectively provided was essential in helping Orlando push their more fancied opponents to the wire.
He earned this nod once already when he first lifted himself up off the canvas, but Harris is demanding further attention with the return of his genuinely valuable, rotation-level contributions. The wing’s play has been trending in the right direction basically since the calendar flipped to December, with nary a dud performance evident in his game log since. Last week he averaged 17.3 points on 20-43 shooting, with eight long-distance makes helping the potency of Orlando’s offense. He also remains a solid individual defender, with 6 steals in the stretch and generally physical competition on the perimeter.
I’m on record as liking the Harris pick-up when it happened, either in terms of what he brings as an experienced shooting threat or potentially as a trade chip heading into the deadline. The version of him that we’ve seen across the last month is almost a perfect representation of what those optimistic projections envisioned. Ultimately, it will be interesting to see whether this recent uptick sustains and perhaps even where it eventually takes him.
The Magic have also benefited from the recent return of Ross, with the Human Torch immediately getting back to his scoring ways for an offensively-starved team. He kicked it off with a blistering 33 against the Celtics, shooting 11-19 from the field, 4-8 from deep, and a perfect 7-7 from the line. Two nights later he had 15 more in Chicago to account for almost half of the team’s total bench output, before racking up 18 against the 76ers in his return to Orlando’s home floor.
If the Magic are going to improve their general competitiveness across the season’s second half, it will have a lot to do with the contributions they receive from their veteran wings. That being said, that improved play from the pair has the potential to hasten their exits from Central Florida is an interesting tension that any rebuilding team should probably welcome. For the time being, at least, the pinstriped faithful can simply enjoy the re-emergence of Harris and Ross.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: at Pistons (Sat); vs Wizards (Sun); at Wizards (Wed).
It’s an intriguing week for the Magic, with the team entering a stretch of the schedule that at first glance looks a great deal more favorable than the recent slate. The bulk of it involves a home and away double against a Wizards side that has come back to earth after a hot start, 4-6 over their last 10, 5-10 over their last 15, and a long way from the 7 games over .500 they were back in mid-November. Like many sides around the league – Magic included! – they’ve struggled with injury and illness, a circumstance which looks like it will continue for them some time into the future. It’s unfortunate that Orlando’s home date with them falls on the second night of a back-to-back requiring travel, otherwise the chances of springing an upset might be ever greater.
The most interesting showdown, however, is this Saturday’s tilt against the Pistons. It’s a game that has all the makings of a battle for ping-pong balls, particularly considering the similarity of circumstance that the two sides currently find themselves in: 7 wins apiece; almost identical point differentials on eerily similar offensive and defensive numbers; each with a set of surprising consecutive victories recently; and genuine ‘Rookie of the Year’ candidates. They’re neck and neck in the race for the worst record (and best lottery odds), and a second Detroit victory here would certainly help Orlando’s tanking odds. It’s tough rooting for the team you love to lose, but this is one that the Magic could actually afford to drop.
The crystal ball says …
They’ve been impressively competitive in their last few starts, and this appears to be the week that the Magic will benefit from some timely reinforcements. As such, a split with the Wizards delivers a 1-2 mark on the week.
The next week is an important one for …
Cole Anthony. He’s landed this designation a couple of times already this season, not because of faltering play or obvious areas of weakness but because of his overall importance to the Magic. He returned to play against the 76ers and was immediately impressive, and Orlando will now be counting on him to be the extra little bit of juice needed by a team that has managed to gather a little bit of momentum (despite the current winless streak). The freshly tweaked left ankle is an immediate concern, but if Anthony can stay on the court and maintain his impressive early season form, it will add another dimension to an outfit that seems like it’s only one piece away from stringing together a few victories.
A figure for thought
19.1 – the percentage of all three-point attempts that the Magic take from the corners, the 29th lowest rate league-wide.