Without their leading scorer and with the game being rescheduled because of Tropical Storm Nicole, the Orlando Magic picked up their third win of the season Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks.
The victory came in a concerted team effort: the Magic had five players score in double-figures while limiting Mavericks’ star Luka Doncic to below 30 points for the first time this season (24 points on 9/29 shooting).
And while the Magic were outstanding in the second half (Dallas scored just 31 points on 30.8% shooting from the field), it was a three minute stretch in the second quarter that exhibited some great X’s and O’s and tremendous team defense.
Orlando’s lineup consisted of Jalen Suggs, Terrence Ross, Caleb Houstan, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr., a quintet that had not shared the floor until this point.
The team’s 9-3 run began with a Horns Flare action: when the player who screens for the ball-handler comes off an immediate flare screen from a teammate on the opposite elbow.
Normally, the Horns Flare action is used to create an open three-pointer for the player coming off the flare screen. But watch how Suggs’ defender Josh Green and Wagner’s defender Maxi Kleber switch following the initial ball-screen.
The switch forces some improvisation; so Wagner and Carter Jr. flow directly into a pick-and-roll, a simple action that becomes more difficult to defend each time they run it.
Ross and Houstan provide the necessary spacing for the play to work, and notice how as soon as Houstan sees Carter Jr. rolling to the rim, he halts his backdoor cut to prevent clogging the lane.
On the ensuing possession, Orlando’s defense was on a string. The Mavericks set up a stagger, or two consecutive pindowns, for Tim Hardaway Jr. in the bottom left corner. Ross sees it coming the entire time and navigates both screens to perfection.
At first he gets level with Hardaway Jr., almost as if Ross is the offensive player, glides past Green’s screen, and then he shoots the gap on JaVale McGee’s screen. For insurance, Suggs stunts at Hardaway Jr. once he receives the ball, obstructing any driving lanes.
A ball-screen forces Carter Jr. onto Hardaway Jr., but watch how Suggs and Wagner simultaneously help off their assignments while Ross recovers to stop a pass to the rolling McGee.
Carter Jr. then forces a contested three-pointer and the basketball trickles out of bounds.
The Magic did not run anything complex on their next offensive possession, just another pick-and-roll between Wagner and Carter Jr.
One takeaway here though is that they ran it on Ross’ side rather than Houstan’s: Spencer Dinwiddie is practically underneath the basket as the play is materializing.
Ross is shooting 42.1% on his catch-and-shoot threes this season while Houstan is shooting just 26.7%. That is not a knock on Houstan, but rather a sensible decision to attack the area where there will be less help defense.
After drawing an offensive foul on McGee, Wagner continued orchestrating Orlando’s offense to a T.
Once again operating out of the pick-and-roll, Carter Jr. fails to get adequate post position against a good defender in Kleber.
The big man reverts to the three-point line, but a drive by Wagner occupies the attention of Kleber. Dinwiddie is now accounting for two players, Carter Jr. and Houstan, and the rookie instinctually cuts to the basket for an easy layup.
As an aside, once Houstan’s shot starts falling (it may not be this year), he is going to be a nightmare to deal with.
The only basket the Mavericks scored during this span was a contested three-pointer by Dinwiddie, and the Magic capped off their 9-3 run with a pull-up three from Suggs: an aspect of his game that has treated him well to begin this season.
No Paolo? No problem. The Magic won Wednesday’s game 94-87 and will look to carry over their momentum against the Phoenix Suns this Friday.