Saturday, December 31, 2011

Magic Move to 3-1, How U?



Winning cures everything. It can cause major media outlets to be forced to produce desperation stories to keep the Dwight Howard trade rumor mill alive. It can take the heat off a General Manager and Head Coach that helped put this Orlando franchise in the 2009 NBA Finals, and what led to the subsequent raising of the bar in expectations. Winning can erase a streak of seemingly inexplicable bad luck and decision making. Winning can make your team's fears and insecurities look minuscule in comparison to opponents and other cities stumbling out of the blocks while continuing to try and steal your superstar. Winning makes team unification that much simpler to accomplish.

No Jameer Nelson? No problem. At least for one 100-79 night in Charlotte. Chris Duhon and Larry Hughes are on the road to NBA point guard recovery. They showed energy and hustle that can easily mask a few bonehead plays. Pushing the tempo and making some nifty passes will set you up for almost certain success. When Jameer heals up, he'll go back to being the veteran floor general we need at this moment. Hedo Turkoglu is alive and kicking after what looked like a continuous decline following EuroBasket. Turk is looking like *knock on wood* the Hedo of a few years ago. When not shooting the ball efficiently, Turk is leaving his mark via rebounding and relaxing point-forward dishes. Turk is in a zone. No, not his zombie zone. Hedo's calmly getting the job done. Dwight is playing like '08-'09 Superman where defense and rebounding came first. With 48 rebounds in 48 hours and his 33rd career 20-20 game in his back pocket. Also, no technical fouls yet for Howard.




Ryan Anderson is averaging 19.5 points per game. I REPEAT, RYAN ANDERSON IS PUTTING UP ALL-STAR NUMBERS! When Ryno isn't going berserk from downtown or on the glass, Big Baby Davis is doing a lot of his own dirty work and drilling an 18-20 footer on occasion. Jason Richardson has the hops of a 25-year-old and is attacking the paint and rim at will. Remarkably refreshing. J.J. Redick is posting up 6th Man of the Year statistics and displaying phenomenal at-the-rim finishing prowess. Meanwhile, Stan Van Gundy is pulling a Zen Master. SVG is also smiling a lot more and seems to be enjoying this fun stretch. Van Gundy is coaching an underrated team for the first time since that Finals run. Don't think for a second he's not savoring it and looking to make a lot of people eat crow. I'm only scratching at the surface of what's been a fun past few days. 

All Orlando fans can hope for is that the Magic keep winning. 3-1 and a little steam of momentum being produced from three straight victories is what we're looking at currently. A glimmer of hope. A pleasant distraction from the constant Dwight chatter. Definitely not a bad way to kick off on-the-court play with what has already been a high-tension '11-'12 campaign. This team should be falling apart. You had the Bob Vander Weide mini-scandal. Dwight demanding a trade several times (that hasn't changed). Fans were calling for the entire roster to be traded. Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith to be fired. Local figures, both significant and insignificant, jumping off the bandwagon. The franchise to be sold. Diehard supporters were looking to ditch their season tickets. Some of those are exaggerations, but not really. 

Remember when Dwight being traded before preseason was almost a guarantee? Now the stories have focused to Dwight being traded before the trade deadline. I have a question: What happens if the Magic are somehow a top 3 team in the East? After all, God forbid this Orlando team become a contender and everyone's L.A. or Brooklyn pipedreams gets ruined. What if All-Star Weekend comes and Dwight's representing in Magic gear? What if Dwight's still in Orlando pinstripes once the March 15th trade deadline comes and goes? What happens if Orlando becomes the franchise in the driver's seat to re-signing D12 in the summer? So many questions and scenarios to be played out. All one can do is literally sit back and watch what appears to be a solid team displaying some awesome chemistry. No pressure opens the door to entertainment and happiness galore for 'We Are Magic' nation. 

My Orlando Magic New Year's resolution is to savor what we put out onto that parquet floor. Happy New Year to those with any type of stake in the City Beautiful, be it personal, fiscal, or pure blue and white pride. It's ok to be cautiously optimistic with this 3-1 start, even if those wins came against the Rockets, Nets, and Bobcats. Our one defeat came after just 2 preseason games and a short training camp. Oh yeah, and it was in OKC who have one of the best fans and rosters in the league. David Stern and the league have given the Magic a fairly lenient schedule to start things off. Orlando has already won both second games of their 2 back-to-backs and the 3rd of their 19 back-to-back stretches already coming tomorrow. If the Magic can reach a 10-3 or 10-4 record, you'll see a lot of that Dwight trade rumor mill dissipate. 


All photos are from Yahoo! Sports. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Magic Gifts of Christmas Past



Let's see if the O-Town boys can pull off a miracle  in Oklahoma City to start what will be an eventful '11-'12 campaign. Basketball is back, Magic fans. We've had some fun times on this day.






No footage of our 2002 victory over the Pistons or of the revenge win in 1995 against the Houston Rockets.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

From The Stands - Magic's '11-'12 Open Scrimmage Video & Analysis





I didn't get to enjoy the Amway Center scrimmage last season, so I was definitely making the trek this time with Dwight Howard's future in a Magic uniform in severe jeopardy. About 6,400 fans showed up to the free event. It's obviously a completely unique experience, in comparison to Dwight's charity game, when you have Stan Van Gundy mic'd up and giving the audience an opportunity to know what runs through his mind. 

So with the first of only 2 exhibition games in a mini series with the Miami Heat being played tonight at 6 p.m. (it's televised), it'll be interesting to see how many minutes Stan gives the starters. Who are our starters? It's looking like Jameer, J-Rich (even if he's paid less than Redick now), Hedo, Ryno, and Dwight. Orlando is on a 21-game preseason win streak that dates back all the way to October 6, 2008 when the Hawks last defeated the Magic. Oddly enough, that was the season we made the NBA Finals. So maybe a loss tonight isn't the worst thing in the world.




Here are my tiny evaluations of all 15 Magic men from Saturday's scrimmage along with live game footage posted underneath: 

Dwight Howard - Even if he performed terribly, I probably wouldn't admit it. Thankfully, I don't have to sabotage myself. Superman looked great, even if he was going through the motions. That jumper appears to be more and more comfortable for Howard. Doesn't depend on on the glass. Drilled an impressive fadeaway jumper from just above the free throw line. Speaking of the stripe, Howard's percentages may not have improved but that form looks infinitely better. Still a defensive and rebound beast. I noticed Van Gundy gave a few gimme fouls early to appease the superstar. 

Jameer Nelson - In veteran cruise control floor general mode. Preferred to get the other guys involved. Took the open jumper when it was there and knocked it down each time. Didn't force anything. Looks focused in trying to keep the team together in these tumultuous times. 

Hedo Turkoglu - Apocalyptically abysmal. I thought Turk was rather horrible at EuroBasket, but clearly he wasn't in a 5-mile radius of a basketball during the Lockout. He looks fit, but he's constantly laboring and his knees look destroyed. Couldn't buy a basket. Held on to the ball too long in the pick-and-roll which even the crowd even noticed. He was the only player to receive boos during this exhibition. 

J.J. Redick - It's tough to say when Redick will be absolutely 100% post surgery, but he's now got the larger contract over Jason Richardson. J.J. is now expected to fight his damnedest for that starting shooting guard spot. If he doesn't succeed, it won't be for lack of effort. Shot looks off and he's not running as fast as we're used to seeing. Not a memorable performance.  

Ryan Anderson - Couldn't miss a 3-pointer at Dwight's charity event, only to miss almost everything at this scrimmage. Stan loved yelling his name out and keeping him chugging up and down the court. Didn't show any improved dribbling skills like Ryno said he'd accomplish. On the bright side, 'Snoggle' won every loose ball and is not afraid to battle in the paint. He's going to scratch and claw for starter minutes.

Daniel Orton - Just, ugh. Had that one dunk and kind of battled well with Dwight. Other than that, just putrid. Low IQ is showing. Lost on offense and defense. Hands of stone. Got kneed in the groin by Hedo. Allowed Baby to swat a very weak attempt at the hoop. Kid looks more mobile than last year, but has light years to go. 

Quentin Richardson - He has regained some of his Clippers-Suns swag. Looked out of shape at Dwight's charity game, but is definitely fit now. Shot horrendously last year, but his 3-pointer already looks a bit more loftier. It's all about confidence with Q and I think he'll surprise us with some nice performances throughout this campaign. 

Chris Duhon - Last season Chris couldn't even dribble the ball up the court. Duhon has improved on that account. Shot is still crap and there is nothing that indicates he belongs on this roster other than that inflated guaranteed contract. 

Jason Richardson - Looks healthy but didn't exert himself much. Stayed out a lot on the 3-point line and you almost forgot he was on the court at times. I'm not too worried though, but Jason must start cutting and creating offense inside the paint. Especially when his shot may not be there to begin this campaign. 

Earl Clark - With daughter and girlfriend courtside and having fun, Earl looked much more fluid than at Dwight's charity game. Remember, this was Clark's first practice experience since being re-signed. Stan will be happy to have another defensive guy (and beastly athlete) at his disposal. Last season, coach slowly began to trust Clark more with guarding some of the elite forwards in the Association. Hopefully that continues. 

Justin Harper - Of course I had bias towards the kid, I followed his journey in France for the 9 games he played in Strasbourg. Justin didn't really show us much on this morning. Shot looks great and they'll start dropping sooner rather than later. Didn't see him bang around much in the paint. Can't judge him on much else at this time. 

DeAndre Liggins - When he was drafted, I just prayed DeAndre would be better than Keith Bogans. Mission accomplished. Already credited as a lockdown defender, DeAndre has an unbelievably fast first step on offense. He can blow by people like a flash of lightning. I like his shooting form as well. Very smooth and no hitches to complain about. Liggins carries quite the knack for the ball, and can dribble a lot better than I recalled. Got to the free throw line at will on Saturday. The Kentucky grad only played a bit of basketball at his alma mater during the work stoppage, but clearly he was able to improve. He's that Courtney Lee type of wild card player that can unexpectedly elevate the quality of a roster. 

Larry Hughes - Came into the league during the '98-'99 work stoppage, and he's still only 31 years old. We don't want Larry shooting jumpers, ever. But he made a few decent passes and had that exquisite baseline reverse lay-up that displayed his still intact athleticism. At 6'5", I'd be willing to risk making him the backup point guard behind Jameer. Unfortunately for us, I don't see Stan doing that. We'll see how much rope Duhon is given. 

Glen Davis - His physicality is so imposing that even Dwight can't move that brick wall. Baby has lost a lot of weight, and the pinstripes will be extra slimming for Glen. His patented 18-20 foot jumper didn't drop. When it finally did the crowd cheered and applauded with a hint of sarcasm as Davis bowed to the Amway Center folks. He may not know many plays, but he's got the IQ and the girth to set screens all day and night. Great hands and he knows how to move that weight into perfect rebounding position. Baby received a few boos during introductions, but towards the end it was nothing but cheers. Despite his Celtics background, Glen can be a fan favorite here in no time. 

Von Wafer - Von has always had difficulty with coaches. At Olympiakos, with Doc Rivers in Boston. Eventually he and Stan will bump heads. Thankfully, all went perfectly well in Italy in the past few months and Otis Smith is looking like a genius for bringing him to Orlando. Maybe he's matured, maybe not, but Von will be an astounding bench spark plug while he's happy and healthy. Wafer's athleticism and attacking of the paint will earn him minutes alone. Needs to work on defense, but his shooting streaks will remind you of J.R. Smith. Oh, and he can dunk with some added thunder. Wow. 

Gabe Pruitt - Need to see a lot more out of the 6'4" point guard, but I like him a lot better than Duhon only because he doesn't screw up and seems to know how to dribble. He'll be in a suit though come opening night because Duhon makes a few million more than him. 










Thursday, December 8, 2011

Harper Arrives in New Home with High Hopes



I really believe that Justin Harper makes Brandon Bass and/or Ryan Anderson expendable right this second. Keep in mind, I'm riding the assumption that Otis Smith will sign Justin to a multi-year contract in the next week. That's key because Bass will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Ryan Anderson will be a restricted free agent as well in the upcoming offseason. Odds are if Otis wants to make a trade this month to improve the roster in trying to retain Dwight, one of those two power forwards will have to be packaged. That leaves a lot of court time for the Richmond Spider product who has more than paid his rookie dues playing in France. This Magic franchise needs to drop a lot of salary, and it's in Stan Van Gundy's best interest to make sure Justin produces off the bench.



Harper didn't have cash reserves to sit on during the work stoppage. Justin already looked like an intelligent and humble kid, but his Strasbourg experience has made Harper not just a better all-around player, but a grown man as well. Coach Vincent Collet showed no preferential treatment to the 22-year-old, and was never shy to call out Justin on bad shot selection or defensive lapses. Harper may have started at PF, but he experienced a fair amount of minutes at both the small forward and even center positions. There's a lot of banging around and player position battles in the Pro A league. France was the perfect crash course to toughen up a potentially studly second round draft pick. 



When we last left our 6'9" power forward, #5 was making a push for French All-Star accolades being listed on his resume. I'm estimating that Harper was notified of the end of the NBA Lockout no earlier than 6 hours before his crucial match with ASVEL had begun. That may be a good enough excuse for him having a weak outing. Strasbourg finally lost at home, 74-80. The video highlights show Tony Parker's dominance. Harper had a putrid 7 points, off 3-for-11 shooting (1-of-7 from downtown), in 33 minutes. The 10 rebounds are one of few positives taken from this colossal match. 



Justin's farewell game came on the road in a 79-70 loss to Pau Orthez. Harper seemed super smooth and calm in this match. There would be no confidence rattling on this evening. 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting (2-for-4 on 3s) in just 23 minutes of work is a good way to go out. After that December 2nd match, it was off to Richmond for the now Magic rookie. The Spider graduate got to recharge his batteries at home for a few days. Now he's in town, and ready to go to work yet again for training camp that begins on Friday. 


In 9 games with SIG, Justin posted 13.0 ppg, 45.8 FG%, 38.6 3-PT%, 6.6 rpg, and about a block per contest. 12-of-18 from the free throw stripe isn't really indicative of how fantastic a shooter this kid should be in the Association. Orlando's front office definitely likes what they've seen up to this point. I refuse to fathom the thought of this 2nd rounder failing with this organization. If nothing else Magic fans, Justin may play so well he'll become adequate trade bait if it helps Dwight stay in town. Welcome to Orlando, Mr. Harper. Make the best of your situation. 


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

66 Games of Jam-Packed Orlando Magic Basketball





Who knows how much free agency and trade chaos occurs before the Magic even tip off their 2011-2012 campaign on Christmas Day in Oklahoma City, but be prepared for a thriller of a season. Yes Magic fans, expect the Dwight Howardchats to somehow get worse. The Bob Vander Weide drunk dialing scandal isn't helping either (Congrats, Alex). Either way, I'd bet a body part that Otis Smith won't trade Dwight before the All-Star Weekend. It would have to take Dwight demanding a trade for Otis to pull the trigger on a deal to ship our superstar center out of time. There's too much money at stake and this is still a top 4 Eastern Conference team.

First thing you may notice in comparison to the original 82-game schedule that was planned, no London trip. Just not enough days off available to make the United Kingdom trip possible for two Magic-Nets matchups. The opening season back-to-back is a sign of things to come. Christmas in OKC, and then a return to the Amway Center for a meeting with the Houston Rockets (who will be waiting hungrily for us). 19 back-to-backs await Orlando this season, which are 2 more than the seventeen there would've been in the normal 82-game version. Josh Robbins did a great job breaking down those b-2-bs. 6 are away-aways, 4 away-to-homes, and 9 home-to-aways. No home-and-home consecutive days (Miami have 7). There is one dreaded back-to-back-to-back. That comes between January 16th through the 18th. 

Excluding the 8 NBA TV games, the Magic have 16 nationally televised games. Funny enough, that's two more than the 14 games that were planned in the 82-game schedule. Makes you wonder what changed. Stan Van Gundy's side also only have two 'big' road trips. A soft 4-game trek in January, and a 5-game East road trip at the tail end of February (with the fifth game coming after the All-Star Break). Orlando don't have a home stand that lasts more than 3 games which I'm rather comfortable with.

This will be SVG's 5th season at the helm. Orlando only has two games that begin before 6 p.m. EST. Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 16th, at the Knicks (Madison Square Garden will be extra energetic on that Monday), and February 19th in Miami. Only 9 of the sixty-six contests will be in a Western Conference arena. Overall, this is a very favorable schedule in which we can make a lot of noise. 

January 20th brings the Los Angeles Lakers to town. A massive game as it is since many people believe Dwight wants to go to Hollywood. Oh yeah, and we really despise the Lakers ('09 Finals or not). However, there's also the fact that Superman currently sits just 328 points behind Nick Anderson on the Magic's all-time franchise point total list. If Dwight just averages 22 points per game and doesn't miss a game due to health issues or a suspension, Howard will get to shatter another record in front of a standing Orlando ovation. Let's hope our pinstriped players pleasantly surprise us, even with all the distractions they will face. Strap in, folks. Truly expect a wild ride. 

Here are also schedule breakdowns from the Orlando Sentinel and the Orlando Magic's website.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jameer Nelson - Once Again Forgotten



'Motivation' can be a funny thing. In sports, basketball spectators seem to view money as the main driver for players exerting themselves at an even higher rate than their normal on-court performance. I tend to view 'motivation' as a natural counterbalance to fear. Fear of not being able to make a living off the game/occupation you love. Fear that you'll never make your mark in your profession. Fear of digressing once a little bit of success comes your way. Fear that there's some young stud out there gunning for your job. Professional athletes may get paid millions more than your average citizen, but that money doesn't automatically eliminate the phobias that you or I may have.

Remember when Jameer Nelson went from the best player in college to not even getting drafted as an NBA Lottery pick? Remember when Nelson was only supposed to be an Earl Boykins-type undersized shooting guard that could provide an occasional spark off the bench? Remember when Carlos Arroyo was going to dethrone Jameer as the starter? Remember a few years ago when we thought Jameer had hit his potential, only to see Nelson play a phenomenal All-Star caliber season? He's one of the best point guards in Magic history, but this is a 'what have you done for me lately?' type of league. Loyalty doesn't mean anything if your one true superstar is on the verge of possibly bolting. This franchise has had a special 5-year run of success and no one in the City Beautiful wants to see that end.


Let me clear the air right now, Deron WilliamsMonta Ellis, or Chris Paul would be a massive upgrade over Jameer who very well could be on the decline. The odds of Gilbert Arenas hitting anywhere near his prime form are slim to none, but they're a lot better than the chances we have at successfully trading for one of those elite guards. I'm sure no one expects anything out of Chris Duhon, who could barely dribble the ball up the court last season. This is a time where Orlando fans need to have faith in the franchise's current personnel. That includes are co-captain. Nelson had a solid postseason in 2010. What happened from then to now? Jameer has never been one to admit when he's hurt, or to use excuses.

His 2010-2011 season was marred with numerous minor injuries all over his body that would affect the performance of any athlete. You'd hear vague mentions of a nick here or a twinge there for our point guard, but nothing any casual fan will have recalled. In my eyes, Jameer was barely able to move properly in the postseason. He lacked that extra burst that Nelson can normally count on in clutch situations. It's also why Arenas started to gain some minutes towards the end of our postseason run. If a great deal is made to help keep Dwight in town, perfect. If not, it's not the end of the world. Far from it.

Nelson has had to overcome countless criticism since his days at St. Joseph's. Potentially being the main reason why the Lakers beat the Magic in the Finals, as well as the still infamous "I'll catch you in the 2nd round" sound clip that never should have been heard by the world. The Hawks used that one quote to fuel their upset of the Magic in last summer's first round series. It's tough to think that defeat still isn't eating at Jameer's insides. 


Can Jameer get back to All-Star form? After all, that epic weekend at the end of February is being hosted in Orlando. Does the soon to be 30-year-old have that aggression and drive remaining? Is the hunger for a championship greater than ever? Will Otis Smith drastically change up the point guard position before Nelson even gets a chance? Will Gilbert Arenas steal a large chunk of Mighty Mite's minutes? Any extra motivation helps. Can Jameer give us a comeback when the future of the franchise is on the line? So far he looks to be in great shape. Let's see how training camp, preseason, and the first few weeks of the regular season go before we can start making legitimate evaluations. 

We're rooting for our 5'10" court general to step up and quiet the doubters once more. Whether he remains in Orlando pinstripes or not, it's in Jameer's best interest to have a fabulous '11-'12 campaign so his NBA career can be prolonged. Do us Magic fans proud, Mighty Mite. We want to believe you're still the man that can show us the way to an NBA title.