Friday, November 30, 2012

Brooklyn Blasts Past Magic Behind 3-Point Barrage

Here's my Magic Basketball Online recap of the Orlando Magic losing for a 3rd time this season to the Brooklyn Nets, 98-86. Also, enjoy the Magic player postgame locker room videos. JJ Redick has discovered my last name, and it's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Superior Spurs Storm Through Orlando

Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs hopped and skipped their way into Amway Center and improved to 13-3 as they annihilated the Magic 110-89. Spurs are still a championship contender. The now 5-9 Magic once again coughed up too many turnovers, displayed countless atrocious defensive rotations, and a lack of transition attack. It's the first time Orlando has truly been out-matched so badly. 2-for-15 from 3-point range won't get it done. Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo each shot 50 FG% and poured in 14 and 16 points. Glen Davis finished with a semi-decent 12 points on 6-of-16. At least Kyle O'Quinn managed a career-high 6 points and 5 rebounds. On this evening, Orlando settled for jumpers instead of bullying their way through the paint with Tim Duncan is San Antonio's only legitimate stalwart. It's frustrating since the Magic had two full days to prepare while the aging Spurs have a game in Miami on Thursday to complete a four games in 5 nights, as well as a 6-game Eastern Conference road trip. They've won all five contests so far going into their highly anticipated 6th game against the Heat. There's a reason why Popovich has been coaching that Spurs team for 16 years as Gregg is still running a tight ship of deadly veterans. 
Coach Vaughn on the Magic's problem tonight: "Just being ready from the start. Be ready. Your effort and energy and discipline and concentration has to be at a premium. Especially when you're playing premium teams."
E'Twaun Moore comes in as a substitute midway through the first period and immediately turns the ball over, then takes an ill-advised shot and bricks it. Big catapulting reason why the Spurs went on a 13-0 run. No ball movement or offensive flow. Moore's defense (or lack thereof) on Ginoboli allowed Manu to drain 4 treys and put the Spurs up 29-18 after one period. Arron Afflalo needs to go through a dribbling and passing workshop if he wants to be respected as a first option on offense. You know it's bad for E'Twaun when you begin contemplating about giving his minutes to Ish Smith.

Coach Vaughn on lack of free throw attempts: "It was a point of emphasis. That's a sign of them being more aggressive than us, and attacking the rim. Pretty simple, they were a little bit more aggressive than us tonight."
Coach Vaughn needed to recognize that Nik Vucevic was bodying up Tim Duncan quite nicely and making the future Hall of Famer's night difficult. Especially in comparison to Gustavo Ayon whose legs and feet are falling apart before our eyes. A Duncan 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer put the Spurs ahead 55-41. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili had combined for 37 points in those first twenty-four minutes. The main difference was that San Antonio shot 6-of-12 from 3-point range in comparison to the Magic's terrible 1-for-8. Oh, and Orlando didn't attempt a single free throw. That's another habit I don't want this team to acquire long-term. 

Coach Vaughn on his team's mentality tonight: "There has to be an extreme focus coming into each and every game. You can't afford to simply walk into the game. You have to be prepared and run into the game. We were lucky to not be down more at halftime."
Orlando wouldn't shoot their first free throws until the 4:32 mark of the 3rd period (and DeQuan Jones missed both), but the start of the 3rd quarter yielded much more inside Magic scoring production that led to the Magic nailing their first 4 shot attempts of the quarter. Orlando went on a roller coaster ride of trailing by almost twenty, to almost getting within single digits. After all that mistaken-filled wasted energy, Orlando was down an insurmountable 81-64 deficit heading into the final period. The Amway Center atmosphere was quiet beyond belief. The Spurs still have a title worthy high-caliber roster, and it's pitiful when the casual television viewer sees an abundance of empty seats. 

The only reason to have watched the fourth quarter is to keep tabs on the young guys such as O'Quinn, Andrew Nicholson, and DeQuan look decent in garbage time. Positive player development is all one can hope for in this situation. The Magic finish their longest home stand of the season by facing off against Brooklyn for already the 3rd time this year on Friday. Orlando may be 0-2 against the revamped Brooklyn franchise, but Jameer hasn't gotten his crack at Deron Williams and the Nets yet. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

21-0 Run Fuels Orlando to Carve Detroit Up

I fully enjoyed that Andrew Nicholson facial. Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn has not been afraid to tweak his starting lineups so far this season. He’s now the proud owner of NBA-high 7 different starting lineups through eleven games. It’s that experimentation, whether out of necessity from injuries or not, that Stan Van Gundy was previously criticized about. Maurice Harkless was thrown into the fire Wednesday evening as his 8th career NBA game would be his first as a starter. The 19-year-old out of St. John’s had the arduous task of dealing with Tayshaun Prince, with Arron Afflalo sliding back to his usual spot of shooting guard and JJ Redick coming off the bench in a more appropriate 6th man role. It paid off for the Magic, who celebrated their first contest of a 5-game home stretch with a 90-74 drubbing they gave Detroit. Orlando improves to 4-7 and owe thanks to Detroit for providing half their wins. Rookie Andrew Nicholson poured in a career-high 15 points as he led Orlando in scoring. Glen Davis fought off foul trouble and managed 11 points and 14 rebounds. Arron Afflalo finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds despite banging his left knee and left elbow in the first half.  JJ posted a solid 11 points and 7 assists. Jameer Nelson quietly had an efficient 10 points, 7 assists, and 6 boards. Oh, and that Harkless guy cruised to 7 points and 4 boards. Enjoy the Magic locker room interviews. Coming into tonight, Orlando led the league in 3-point and field goal shooting home-away differential. So with the Magic playing five straight games at home, you would assume it’d be a cure for anemic offensive output. 
Pistons Coach Lawrence Frank on losing to the Magic twice in 5 days: “At this point in the season Orlando is better than us. That’s what it says…It’s very, very disappointing the way that we played but they’ve beat us twice.”

The first period saw more of the same scoring struggles with Orlando’s shooting woes throwing up a paltry 36 FG%, while Detroit managed a very strong 57.9 FG%. Jacque Vaughn’s men were down ten at one moment. The Pistons having twice as many turnovers as the Magic was a big reason why Orlando only trailed 27-21 after the first period. Orlando’s starters only posted seven points in the quarter as Orlando relied on Gustavo Ayon and Andrew Nicholson for scoring. Six points each came from ‘Goose’ and ‘Drew.

Arron Afflalo on tonight’s success: “That’s the key for us; we have to become a better transition team. And the only way we’re going to do that is to start getting some stops. That was very welcoming to see for us to put together a defensive effort like that, that kind of allowed us to dictate the game a little bit. We’ve been hurt in the 1st (quarter) so often. So hopefully we can carry that over.”

Orlando began the 2nd quarter finishing off a 14-5 run to tie the contest up at 29-29. Game on. The Magic went into the locker room down 48-45. The main difference between the two teams was Detroit’s 8-point advantage in points in the paint. Detroit Coach Lawrence Frank’s big men were once again pests down low. Andrew Nicholson was the only Orlando player to reach double figures going into halftime. JJ Redick dished out 5 of his team’s eleven assists in those first 24 minutes. At least the Magic starting five somehow posted double their 1st period output. During the intermission, a Magic fan banked in a halfcourt shot and won $1,000. 
Glen Davis on Coach Vaughn’s halftime talk: “He came in here and said, ‘Okay’. He turned on film, and said, ‘Let’s go play hard. That’s it. Keep doing what you’re doing and we’re going to win this ball game.’ That’s it.”

I’m thankful that Tayshaun Prince didn’t put up an unstoppable offensive 3rd quarter like he did last Friday. I’ll give Harkless credit there. A 21-0 Magic run out of the third period gates got Orlando a 66-48 advantage, and in the correct direction towards victory. That’s understating the situation a lot. Detroit was done after that phenomenal stretch.  Orlando had successfully run the Pistons out of Amway Center to the delight of the raucous 17,199 in attendance. It took a Rodney Stuckey free throw line trip with 2:15 remaining for the Pistons to finally produce their first point of the period. Andrew Nicholson posterizing Kyle Singler capped off a magnificent 71-56 lead entering the final quarter, as the Canadian was sitting atop a new career-high in points (13) at that instant. There wasn’t a statistical category the Magic didn’t own an advantage over the Pistons in. The relief of victory in the locker room was quite evident. Orlando has a day off to share time with their loved ones before coming back to Amway Center to play a Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers club on Friday.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hawks Feast Like Vultures on Magic Starters

You could smell the stench of decay on a few occasions Monday night. To horribly steal a line from a Southwest Airlines commercial, the Magic don't 'wanna get away?' from Orlando. Particularly when it involves back-to-back road games. See the disappointing Chicago-Minnesota trip as exhibit A, and now this deflating Toronto-Atlanta frustration as more evidence that Jacque Vaughn's Magic roster can't figure out how to succeed outside of Amway Center. The Magic lost 81-72 to fall to a record of 3-7. Orlando turned the ball over 19 times, the Hawks nabbed a ridiculous 12 steals. Glen Davis was the only black and white man in double figures with 11 points and 7 rebounds. The starting five as a whole only managed 32 points. Putrid. Maurice Harkless and Josh McRoberts each poured in 8 points off the bench. Respect to Nik Vucevic for fighting hard for 13 rebounds. At least these guys snagged that comeback victory in Detroit. Seriously though, the Hawks were for the taking just like the Raptors on Sunday. Neither team shot well. Careless turnovers was the main difference. But now back to the present reality, and it's looking bleaker and ever so discouraging. Atlanta has now won the past 7 matchups with Orlando. It's amazing how laughable the Hawks used to be just a few years ago. Remember when we were sweeping Atlanta out of the postseason? The tables have long turned.  

Coach Vaughn on another rough offensive showing: "Basketball is complicated if you make it complicated. First guy that's open, pass it to him. Doesn't matter who it is. Get movement, keep it simple."

Orlando led 23-21 after one period in the literally half-empty Philips Arena. Coach Vaughn hit the bench hard and often as eight different Magic men scored in those first 12 minutes. Sharing the wealth indeed. More shockingly, Josh McRoberts was the team's leading scorer with six points. Twelve Orlando players saw 1st quarter action as Jacque had to cope with JJ Redick and Jameer Nelson dealing with illnesses. He didn't have massive stats, but Nik Vucevic did a great job keeping Al Horford under control. The Magic trailed 41-37 at halftime as Vucevic and Nelson were the offensive focal points. The defense was superb for a change as Orlando was not afraid to get physical with Hawks bigs Ivan Johnson and Zaza Pachulia. The 12-5 turnover difference factored largely into why Atlanta had the advantage at halftime. Four assists from E'Twaun Moore is great. Four giveaways? Not so much. 

Coach Vaughn on Jameer and Redick playing through illness: "I appreciate their effort. They tried to play for their teammates, but I'd say they'd both agree that they weren't 100%."

The third period found the Magic struggling even more to score than in the first 24 minutes. Nelson and Redick couldn't physically move around as well as we've expected this season. It doesn't help when Kyle Korver and Josh Smith woke up after neither made a first half field goal to fuel an 11-0 Hawks run. Orlando was down 45-59 midway through the 3rd period and this squad just appeared very deflated. Settling for long jumpers when their bread and butter should be attacking the paint at full force. Can't go six minutes without making a field goal and expect to compete in games. The Hawks led 65-49 heading into the final period thanks to a 22-8 run. In a sense, the game was over. It truly was though with the fourth period being utilized as a large garbage time experiment. Again, this Orlando team has difficulty finding energy away from home. 

Coach Vaughn on coughing up the ball: "I think turnovers is something that can be taken care of fairly quickly."

I admire the Magic's third string going on a 12-0 run late to make the score look respectable, and scare the Hawks coaching staff into throwing their starters back onto the court late. God love his effort and heart, Kyle O'Quinn makes the case for more minutes. The Magic now have an absolutely crucial 5-game home stand during this Thanksgiving period that begins Wednesday versus the Pistons. The FOX Sports Florida turkey is on the line. Orlando has to go over .500 during the upcoming stretch if they want any potential playoff aspirations, because a 5-game road trip awaits afterwards. This Magic team's initial exuberance and confidence is falling faster than the temperature in the City Beautiful area. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Toronto's Execution Too Much for Magic

Your now 3-6 Orlando Magic dropped their first game of the season that they should have won. After clawing back from a rough beginning to claim a fourth period advantage in this contest, the Magic lost 97-86 in Toronto. The Raptors improved to 3-7 and did not look like a team who just 24 hours before Sunday's showdown got stomped in Boston. Toronto had the fresher legs in crunch time and ran Jacque Vaughn's team into the Canadian ground. The difference in execution down the stretch is all you needed to look at as the Raptors appeared very desperate for victory. At least we'll never question this Magic roster's effort. We saw a Compton, California showdown between Arron Afflalo and DeMar DeRozan, as well as a homecoming for Andrew Nicholson. DeRozan looked like a Vince Carter/Kobe Bryant hybrid at times (I'm trying not to vomit) as DeMar poured in 20 points and 9 rebounds. Afflalo mustered 15 points. Glen Davis posted his 6th double-double of the young year with 16 points and 12 assists. Nik Vucevic managed 12 points and 6 boards. Nicholson had a nervous 2-for-7 shooting day but had a respectable 8 points in front of his fellow countrymen. E'Twaun Moore provided the extra bench scoring punch with 16 points. For the first time since the opening weekend of the regular season, DeQuan Jones was back on the court starting his third career game. He filled in at shooting guard for the ill JJ Redick. 

Coach Vaughn on another slow start: "We had to play comeback basketball again. And when you do that, sometimes you speed yourself up. When you speed yourself up you have turnovers."

Just like in Detroit, Orlando started out sluggishly allowing the Raptors to begin the contest ahead 20-10 fueled by a 12-2 run. Jameer tends to have the advantage over Jose Calderon over the years. Throw the previous matchups out the window. The Spaniard began his afternoon capitalizing on his first two 3-point attempts as Calderon would finish with 18 assists. Did Rajon Rondo and Jose switch bodies after Saturday afternoon? Nik Vucevic and Arron Afflalo scored the Magic's first 17 points of the contest before E'Twaun Moore drilled a jumper to end that trend. The Magic trailed by 13 points in the first quarter and were down 22-32 at the conclusion of the period. These sluggish starts are a terrible habit to get into.

Coach Vaughn on needing to be focused out of the gate: "We have to be ready. We have to understand what coverage we're in to start the game...For us to have a chance to win, we have to be ready to play."

The second period saw a lot of rotation experimentation for Coach Vaughn as he tried out both big and small lineups. If not for Glen Davis' 8-point second quarter outburst, Orlando would've been in massive trouble. In a duplicate of Friday night at Detroit, Jameer went into the locker room having missed all 5 of his shot attempts. Props to E'Twaun for picking up the PG slack. Raptors enjoyed a 49-41 halftime cushion. My main gripe? It's great that Big Baby started making shots, but Nik Vucevic was 4-for-5 from the field yet didn't get a single shot attempt in that second quarter. It's inexcusable considering Andrea Bargnani was in foul trouble.

DeQuan Jones didn't take a single shot until the 3rd period, where he would contribute 7 fantastic points and was the main spark that got the comeback going. Orlando would slowly but surely chip at Toronto's 8-point lead. Coach Vaughn made sure his team focused on attacking the paint and forcing the Raptors into committing tick-tack fouls aplenty. It also helps when Toronto's big men struggled at the free throw line. Jameer Nelson's first bucket came with 1:50 remaining the period, tying the contest at 65-65. A Nelson lay-up seconds later gave the Magic the lead. Then the co-captain drilled a jumper to put Orlando up three points as Nelson was on his own personal 6-0 run. The Magic led 69-67 going into the final period. Jameer finished with 8 points and 9 assists on a pitiful 3-for-13 shooting. 

The wheels fell off the bus after that. Once Jameer hit the bench for his breather, the ball movement suddenly stopped under E'Twaun Moore's watch. Not having Redick as a ball handling buffer allowed for the accelerated collapse. It didn't help that Glen Davis' 'hero ball' mode hurt more than helped his teammates. It's a bad omen when Amir Johnson is making a 3-pointer and blindly succeeding at tossing up hot garbage in the post. Amir of all people had fourteen 4th quarter points. You hate to wonder what happens if you have an athletic Kyle O'Quinn defend Amir, but that's what I was doing as Big Baby and Nik couldn't contain Johnson's leaping abilities. So many crucial misses and turnovers for Orlando made the defeat extra frustrating in what was a shockingly very physical matchup. 4 turnovers each from Jameer and E'Twaun is crippling. 

The Magic succumbed to Lithuanian Heritage Day and the daunting Jonas Valanciunas Bobblehead Day. I'm allowed to be sarcastically cheesy. Orlando gets to finish their 3-game road trip in Atlanta on Monday. Let's see if Coach Vaughn's crew has enough energy for this conclusion to a back-to-back, unlike the defeat in Minnesota. Playing the Hawks on Monday will mark the first time this season the Magic take on a Southeast division opponent. If Orlando wants to be taken seriously, they need to compete early and hard against a team that the basketball world already assumes will finish behind Miami in the division standings. Atlanta has won the last 6 meetings with Orlando. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

How Do Magic Spell Relief? D-E-T-R-O-I-T

What's the best cure to end a five-game losing streak? Play someone that's worse than you. Don't get me wrong, Orlando isn't far from the Pistons' lowly now 1-9 depths, but there's too much talent and enthusiasm for Jacque Vaughn's men to be THAT terrible. No one can say that Detroit would be underrated after Coach Lawrence Frank's team humiliated the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Orlando would battle to the end and prevail at the Palace of Auburn Hills 110-106 to earn Coach Vaughn his first road win. It took a JJ Redick clutch 3-pointer off a drawn up Vaughn inbounds play to put Orlando up two with 42.8 seconds left in the game. Then a tough Glen Davis runner to put it away with 15.3 remaining before the Orlando bench was all smiles after trailing by 13 at one point in the second half. Add to that some extra clutch free throws and Orlando's 15-of-17 triumph from the stripe is one happy Dwight-less change all of Orlando will embrace. The now 3-5 Magic literally willed themselves to victory and wins like this build character for the rest of any season. 

Coach Vaughn on Redick's clutch 3-pointer late: "Great, great shot. He's a guy who when he shoots I think it's going in every single time...He deserves to make shots."

23 points and 5 assists from Redick is a wonderful way to bust out of a shooting slump. No one can deny how vital co-captain Jameer Nelson is to this Magic roster. Jameer played and started his second game of the year after returning from a 6-game groin and ankle injury hiatus. 'Mighty Mite' poured in 13 points, 10 assists, 4 boards and 2 steals in his necessary return. Nik Vucevic had his struggles against Detroit's frontcourt depth, but credit to the former Sixer who produced 11 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Any time Glen Davis makes more shots than he misses, it's going to be a great night for him. Big Baby is bouncing back from earlier struggles as Glen posted 17 points and 13 rebounds. Let's not forget Arron Afflalo's 19 points off 50% shooting. Orlando may have 5 defeats on the young season, but coming into Friday, none of those opponents they lost to had a worse record than 5-3. Again, I'm Mr. Optimistic in my observations.

Coach Vaughn on letting Jameer motivate guys in the huddle: "I let him be a leader. There are times in the games it's not meant for a coach to say anything, it's meant for a player...He did a great job rallying our guys."

Detroit had the better start, utilizing their size advantage to attack the paint at will. This is where Jameer Nelson's calming influence came in, as well as his ability to destroy Jason Maxiell's ankles. Magic were only down 13-11, and then Jameer got subbed out. Other than Andrew Nicholson, Vaughn's bench got shoved around in the paint. Despite a 61.1% shooting first period, the Magic only trailed 25-22. A crafty Gustavo Ayon baseline reverse lay-up would cap off a slow but solid 15-2 Magic run with Orlando obtaining a 26-25 lead. The Magic couldn't get the timely stops needed to lower Detroit's efficiency. The Pistons led 50-44 at the break behind 56.8 FG%. Orlando's huge offensive rebounding advantage (7-1) was what kept the Magic in the game heading into the locker room. Afflalo, the former Piston, led all scorers at the half with 12 points on just seven shot attempts.

Coach Vaughn on Glen Davis' performance: "He was unbelievable...He was just pursuing the basketball. He just didn't want to lose. There was an element of will he wanted to impose on the game."

Jameer Nelson began the second half still looking for his first points (0-of-5 on FGs) but did provide 5 assists and 2 steals. Even though his shot was off, 'Mighty Mite' raised offensive tempo and upped the ball movement his first twelve minutes in the game. Just because it wouldn't be Tayshaun Prince if he didn't destroy the Magic, the former Kentucky anorexic patient scored ten points in the first 3:30 of the third period. Unacceptable defense by Afflalo to allow that. Tayshaun has been annihilating Orlando for almost a decade now (since the '03 playoffs when he started guarding Tracy McGrady). Orlando trailed by 13 at this point. Thanks to some huddle-challenging by Jameer, and hustle by Ayon and Nicholson, Orlando went on a 6-0 run late in the quarter to only trailing 71-75 heading into the final twelve minutes. Goose had 6 points and was playing his best ball in a Magic uniform. Detroit settling and missing some jumpers was a massive lifeline. 

Could that slight momentum carry over? With 7:53 remaining, JJ Redick drilled two free throws and Orlando finally regained an 87-86 lead. Be proud for how hard the men in black and white scratched and clawed despite coughing up an abundance of points in the paint. Detroit was absolutely abusing Orlando inside, but the Magic continued to meticulously pick the Pistons' defensive weaknesses apart. It slowly but surely paid off, and the Magic now head to Toronto for a Sunday afternoon affair with a Raptors team that can definitely be had on their court. E'Twaun Moore boosted the bench with 6 points. Josh McRoberts had a shockingly pleasant seven. Orlando is now 3-0 on this 2012-2013 campaign when they win the opening tip. Then again, Jameer Nelson hasn't lost a contest yet either. Let's see if Andrew Nicholson gets a favorable Canadian welcome as he returns home for the first time as a professional. Nicholson learned that you can have a superb game even when just scoring 6 points off 3-of-8 shooting. 'Drew scrapped for everything and that will definitely earn teammates' respect. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Brooklyn Beats Battling Magic in New Backyard

Would the third time be the charm for the Magic to earn their first road win of the 2012-2013 season? Well... no. But at least it wasn't a degrading defeat for this now 2-4 team, falling 82-74 inside the brand new Barclays Center. On Saturday, Coach Vaughn found himself protecting Nikola Vucevic from any criticisms about not successfully defending Brook Lopez during his 11-point first quarter onslaught Friday night by stating that the Nets only scored nineteen points in those initial 12 minutes. Nik got abused again early, allowing 10 first period points to Brook. Vucevic's slow start was made up as the afternoon progressed into early evening as Nik posted 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 assists. Glen Davis' efficiency was a tad bit better, putting up 19 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks as he was 9-for-21 on that wicked herringbone-style Nets floor. 
Coach Vaughn after the loss: "We missed a few bunnies tonight that could have went in. A few jumpers that could've went our way. Overall, I was pleased with the fight we had tonight." 

I've been objective and patient, but I still prefer Amway Center to that red-headed stepchild of a stadium. Nets Head Coach Avery Johnson was grinning with confidence going into the Sunday afternoon contest. You'd be too if you came off a choke job loss at home, then a frustration loss in Miami, and redeeming yourself by putting up a 39-point drubbing on your opponent who you get to face again within 48 hours. Jacque decided to change up his starting lineup once again. This time it wasn't due to injury. Josh McRoberts may have started on Friday, but he only played 12 minutes. 'McBob' would be once again rightfully relegated to the bench as JJ Redick made his first start of the season at shooting guard, sliding Arron Afflalo into McRoberts' abandoned SF position. Afflalo was superb as usual as Arron tallied 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. 'Redickulous' is still suffering to regain his fantastic shooting, as JJ bumbled his way through a 3-for-12 game. But when you hand out 9 assists, Redick is still a positive on the court. No sixth man Redick meant even worse bench production. 4 points to be exact. Pitiful and very disappointing. Orlando whipped out their unlucky black uniforms for the first time in this revamped campaign to no avail.
Coach Vaughn on Glen Davis: "He's done a good job of combining jump shots and drives to the rim...I want him to do what he's doing...I have no stilts. Brook Lopez is pretty big."

Orlando didn't lead for a second on Friday, so it was great that the rematch scoring began with a slick Redick dish to Vucevic for a 2-handed jam. But similar problems immediately appeared. Nets big men were getting very deep paint position for easy buckets. Once Orlando's defense began barricading the paint better with help defense, that led to open 3-pointers for Brooklyn. Glen Davis isolation plays were unproductive to Orlando's cause. Ish Smith looked lost. Maurice Harkless was too weak to handle Joe Johnson and Jerry Stackhouse. The Magic trailed 35-17 after the first quarter. I was in the process of having flashbacks of the horrendous Friday night before the Magic actually showed great 2nd period defensive progress. Also, the Magic's ball movement actually appeared and there was some actual transition scoring. Orlando trailed 50-35 at the break while throwing up a putrid 34.1 FG% and getting beat by 13 on the glass. It's as if the Magic forgot how to box out this week. Arron Afflalo's 13 first half points kept the Magic afloat heading into the locker room. Even though Nik couldn't stop much, you have to admire Vucevic at least battling very hard and putting up 8 points at the break. Both men should be receiving more shot attempts in comparison to Glen Davis. Coach Vaughn's crew was down by fourteen at halftime on Friday. So again, too many similarities to the 39-point horror. 

Effort and ball movement will always keep this Magic squad in games. It took a lot of battling, but Orlando ever so slowly began to make their presence known in the contest. Orlando's first 3-pointer came midway through the 3rd period. All of a sudden it was just a 57-47 deficit. Game on as the Nets only posted thirteen points in that 12-minute session. Brooklyn still led 63-53 but the momentum was shifting to Coach Vaughn's side, until the officiating crew decided to help put the contest in the Nets' hands and punishing the Magic by putting them in the penalty early in the final period. Coach Vaughn won't flat out admit it, but this where it's most crucial to have veterans like Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu out there to calm the situation down on the court. You can direct and guide from the bench all you want, but it's up to the players to keep their composure. That doesn't stop Coach Vaughn for continually praising E'Twaun Moore and the 40 minutes he played. Moore only managed 8 points though.
Coach Vaughn on effort and shot selection: "The shots that we had tonight were good soon as that ball is thrown up at the beginning the game, that focus needs to be there."

I despise complaining about refs, I truly do, but Monty McCutchen's crew didn't call the game equally on both ends. Orlando was constantly attacking the paint in the 2nd half, and only received 18 free throw attempts. It's a much larger number than the lousy eight attempts from Friday, but Brooklyn got away with plenty of hard arm-swats while Orlando was being whistled for light flicks and nonexistent fouls altogether. It shouldn't be difficult to do a paying job properly. If the viewing audience has to focus on the three men with whistles more than the actual game action, then there's something gravely wrong with that picture. Despite all the incorrect whistle-blowing, Orlando kept fighting on. It's a testament to the character on this Magic roster, but Orlando was finally able to crack the Nets double digit lead and only trailed 62-70 with 6:07 remaining in the contest. Orlando got within 5 points late and it was a dogfight down the stretch as the Magic found success running quick pick-and-rolls. In the end, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams had too much firepower for the Magic to complete their comeback. A valiant effort gone to waste unfortunately, just like the Bulls loss in Chicago. Shooting 1-for-12 from 3-point range along with missed lay-ups and not attacking the paint earlier in the game can be viewed as the main culprits for Orlando's loss. Learn and move on.  It's frustrating to see such little or zero playing time for Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn when you see Ayon, Davis, and McRoberts having their frontcourt struggles. Orlando comes back home to host the 4-0 New York Knicks at Amway Center on Tuesday. The only remaining undefeated team in the NBA will be well rested since defeating the Mavericks on Friday

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Harkless Debuts as Minny Manhandles Orlando

Jacque Vaughn had no problem proclaiming this matchup in Minnesota as a big test of his team's character when it involves overcoming a heartbreaker in Chicago. Orlando failed miserably. Orlando fell 90-75 at the Target Center, dropping to 2-2 and longing to return home after their trip away from Amway Center didn't bring victory. It's tough to win a ballgame when only making 35% of your shots from the field. J.J. Redick had a team-high 16 points and claimed his fourth straight FOX Sports Florida 'Subway Sub of the Game'. The 5 turnovers stung. Arron Afflalo finished with an underrated 12 points. Andrew Nicholson and E'Twaun Moore contributed 11 and 10 points in the disheartening loss. What was joked about as a 'Montenegrin Melee' or a 'Nikola Slobber-knocker' center duel between Nik Vucevic and Pekovic proved to be futile hype. Rick Adelman, as he's proven no matter where he has coached, knows how to maximize offensive output from his roster. Even if that T-Wolves roster is without the services of studs like Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Minnesota is showing its playoff capabilities even with a short-handed team as they're now 3-1. 
Coach Vaughn on the blowout loss: "You can't turn inwards. It has to continue being passing and screening and sticking together as a team."

Three airballs in the first 5 minutes of the game was not a great omen for the men in blue. DeQuan Jones' stint as a starter is over for now. Josh McRoberts looked beyond lost as the starting small forward on either end of the court in the first half. I'm terrified to report that 'McBob' made a 3-pointer and an 18-footer Couldn't spread the court nor could Josh stop falling for Andrei Kirilenko pump fakes. E'Twaun Moore couldn't guard Luke Ridnour, and Moore's shot looked putrid in comparison to what we've come to expect from the Purdue Boilermaker. Ridnour has a history of playing above his mediocre output against the Magic. The only bright side in that downright ugly first 12 minutes was Gustavo Ayon finally getting his first points in Magic pinstripes. 'Goose' still looks slow, confused, and a detriment the majority of the time. Ayon is still hustling, but he's a shadow of his superb preseason self. Oh, and Maurice Harkless made his Orlando debut for Coach Vaughn with 5.1 seconds left in that eye-gouging quarter. Overall on the night, Harkless displayed a little bit of his potential of being a possible starter in the future for this franchise. 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists isn't too shabby. Very smooth on the court, didn't get to really shoot, but his defense is more than respectable. Along with showing amazing hops and great alley oop finishing skills, Harkless has a knack for being in the direct vicinity of a loose ball. Derrick Williams looked like the veteran in comparison to Glen Davis, and Brandon Roy looked healthy and posted a 3-point, 5-assists, 3-rebound first period stat line. Wolves were up 25-12.
Coach Vaughn if he could change anything tonight: "I wish the rim would've opened up and the ball would've slid through it."

J.J. Redick couldn't do anything right at this point. The cringe-worthy climax came in the form of two missed shots and 2 turnovers in the initial minute of the 2nd period. Harkless' length came in handy with some nice rebounding and block production. The Magic and Wolves began the period a combined 0-for-16 before Afflalo finally made a field goal with 7:06 remaining. Maurice and Andrew Nicholson provided positive minutes when there wasn't much to be proud of. The two rookies played a huge part in upping Orlando's defense while contributing decently on the offensive end of what was a ridiculously low-scoring half. Somehow an E'Twaun Moore converted jumper in the final seconds had the Magic only down 38-34 at the break. Both teams set basketball back a half century with gaudy play. 32.4 FG% for Orlando including 2-for-10 from 3-point range doesn't get much worse. By comparison, Minny were 42.9% from the field. Confidence wise from Orlando's perspective, you're only down 4 despite a disaster of a 24 minutes. God bless Arron Afflalo, that is all. 'AAA' made 5 of the Magic's twelve first half field goals. 

So you'd imagine the situation had to get better come the 3rd quarter, right? Maybe? Nope. Josh McRoberts scored the Magic's first 4 points if you see that as a good thing. The problem? Minnesota was drilling 3-pointers and poking and prodding at every weak spot in Orlando's defense. Or lack thereof defense. Minnesota's 10-2 run placed themselves in a 51-40 lead. Orlando's effort was flat. No idea if it was fatigue or a case of reality hitting them. After missing his first 6 attempts of the contest, Redick's first 3rd quarter attempt went in. That got the Dukie going offensively, including feeding Ayon for a wide open dunk. 'Redickulous' would knock down a trey off a Andrew Nicholson block on Pekovic to bring the Magic to within 58-53 late in the period. The progress would unravel as Chase Budinger and Greg freakin' Stiemsma handed the Wolves a 68-55 advantage fueled by a 10-2 run to end the 3rd period. 

It was beyond discouraging to see Stiemsma annihilate and abuse Gustavo. Kyle O'Quinn came in with the Magic down 18 and spiraling out of control. Around the time Jose Juan Barea tweaked his ankle, Orlando was down 20 with 8:39 remaining in the contest and it was evident there was zero chance of a Magic comeback. From there it was scrub time with the outcome long decided. At least the thought of 'quitting' didn't cross my mind. Nicholson, Moore, Ish, Harkless, and O'Quinn kept fighting to the end. Even when you're out-matched, that's all I'm sure a Head Coach wants to see at minimum from his men on the floor. DeQuan Jones must be injured. Whether it has anything to do with his abductor muscle problem in his thigh/hip who knows. It could explain why the Miami Hurricane played so few minutes in his previous 2 starts. Jones was the only Magic man in warm-ups who didn't get a second on the court tonight. The Magic fly home, licking their wounds and learning a little more about what it'll take to win on the road. Orlando hosts the relocated Nets on Friday. Glen Davis needs to rest up and 'turn it up' again, as Big Baby had a dud of a back-to-back. Magic need the day off to get on track and maybe develop pride in continuing to protect its home court advantage. It'd be great to see DeQuan or even Maurice start at SF again, with hopefully Jameer Nelson returning to action. Magic fans should prepare themselves now to see a lot of fake Brooklyn Nets 'fans' in their still freshly tagged apparel. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bulls' 4th Quarter Execution Prevails Over Ice Cold Orlando

Barack Obama appears to have retained his presidency tonight, including the support of Chicago and the state of Illinois. Well a different 'blue party' wasn't as fortunate, as the Orlando Magic dropped to 2-1 as they didn't have enough to claim victory in their first road game. Final score was 99-93. Chicago improve to 3-1 on the young 2012-2013 season. Very happy that Arron Afflalo posted a wonderful 28 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. There's a vast difference between Nik Vucevic's solid 16-point & 10-rebound double-double, and Big Baby's horrid 16 & 10 output. J.J. Redick signed an offer sheet with the Bulls in 2010. Thankfully, the Magic matched Chicago's offer and maintained Redick's services. Now 'Redickulous' is shining as the Dukie looked like a point guard with some of the passes he was dishing to his blue and white teammates. Redick led the bench again with 10 points and 7 assists, as JJ found ways of contributing even if his shot wasn't dropping. Thanks to the election activities and Obama's Chicago celebration festivities, the United Center wasn't nearly as crowded or loud as we've come to expect. It's no coincidence there were only three NBA games total on Election Night. Bulls fans were so quiet the entire night. Chicago's attendees only screamed, booed, and reacted when Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah failed to break the century mark for them. No Big Macs for you, I'm sure your arteries won't survive. Both teams were without their huge Adidas stars with Dwight in L.A. and Derrick Rose still a few months away from wearing a red and white jersey again. So that asks for balanced scoring and effort, and we saw it. 

Coach Vaughn on Afflalo's effort tonight: "It was his will. He tried to will us...he'll continue to do that for us."

DeQuan Jones has now started two NBA games for the Magic. He only started 2 contests his entire senior season with the Miami Hurricanes. Jones learned a lot from Luol Deng who lit DeQuan up on a few occasions, and I'll leave it at that. Basketball education isn't always pretty. E'Twaun Moore coming into the evening had three career double digit scoring performances in his career. All 3 of those occurred inside Amway Center (one as a Celtic). Well '3'Twaun' would already pour in ten points before halftime, erasing that intriguing fact. Moore witnessed a homecoming on Tuesday being a native to the area and he impressed his peers with a career-high 17 points and 5 rebounds. The Purdue Boilermaker matched up against Kirk Hinrich, who seemed to always give the injured Jameer Nelson problems throughout their careers. It's nice to have a big point guard for as a change of pace. Tom Thibodeau's Bulls were up 21-13 early before Redick fueled a 9-0 run to snag a small lead. 24-23 O-Town led after one period as Ish Smith is showing a knack for drilling buzzer beaters over the past two weeks.

Coach Vaughn on E'Twaun and his play: "He's been great. He's really stepping up and playing with confidence. Good decision making. He only had had 1 turnover tonight."

Glen Davis was initially 0-for-5 from the field as 'Big Baby' just couldn't score over the strength and height of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Josh McRoberts small forward hustle actually prevented the Magic from getting into a sizable hole. This game had a large lacking of Andrew Nicholson and 'McBob' (Never thought I'd admit that). Magic fans got to foam at the mouth with how successful Ish, E'Twaun, and Arron were on the court together. The versatility and counterattack speed was glorious as Coach Vaughn's crew was up 33-28 midway through a physical first half. Arron Afflalo (9 first half points) and Nikola Vucevic (10 first half points) made sure the Magic wouldn't submit their advantage. It wasn't pretty, but somehow Orlando scrapped and clawed their way to 48-45 lead at halftime. Sharing is caring, and Ish Smith dished 5 assists in the first 24 minutes. The first quarter rebounding and transition scoring problem vanished as the statistics overall were even. Main difference was the Bulls were 1-for-2 from 3-point range, while Orlando drained 4-of-6. 

That's Big Baby's abysmal shot chart above. The 3rd quarter came and Glen Davis transformed into a hideous blackhole Dwight Howard-Brandon Bass hybrid intent on destroying ball movement and causing the scratching of our eyes with hideously grotesque shot selection. It resulted in Chicago retaking the lead 4 minutes into the period. Vaughn stopped the momentum shift by inserting Gustavo Ayon instead of Josh McRoberts. 'Goose' and Nik scrapped and competed hard against Boozer and Nosh. Moore and Afflalo would give Orlando a 63-59 advantage with 4:19 remaining in the period as both teams were furiously keeping their energy levels sky-high. Once again, despite ugly moments, Orlando found themselves ahead 70-68 heading into the 4th quarter.

Big Baby was just so detrimental to the cause, missing an abundance of shots and getting rejected so much that Glen was having Roy Hibbert nightmares again. Redick was struggling mightily to make much of anything as well. It didn't help that Nate Robinson picked a convenient time to renew his 'Magic killer' card, and Luol Deng was a precision sniper from the perimeter. Vaughn exuded remarkable calm as he gave plenty of rest to Nik, E'Twaun, and Afflalo even as the Bulls went ahead 82-74 with six minutes left in the contest. It's a shame Chicago was drilling garbage midrange jumpers. Your everlasting image of the contest should be Glen Davis panicking and shooting a 3-pointer with the Magic only down 4 in the final minute, after being down double digits. In the post-game interview, Coach Vaughn was not hiding his displeasure with the lack of ball movement and huge amount of turbulent isolations. That's definitely more than a hint directed towards Glen. 42 FG% isn't horrible when we consider how superb of a defensive squad Coach Thibodeau has, but the Magic gave this contest away with its unwarranted shot selection. Though they were wasted, Redick and Afflalo showing clutch heroics is encouraging down the road. Orlando's first back-to-back of 13 this season will conclude in Minnesota against the Timberwolves Wednesday. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Magic Soar Over Suns - E'Twaun & DeQuan Get 1st Starts

Orlando hushed initial doubts on Friday to claim victory in their season opener against a strong Denver side. Could they repeat similar success on Sunday against a wildcard Phoenix squad? Well the Magic's 132-game sellout streak may have came to an end, but not their small win streak. Orlando pulled out some trickery and hard-nosed 61-26 run to complete the improbable and come from behind and destroy Phoenix 115-94. Jacque Vaughn called it a "character test". Well, Coach Vaughn and the gang passed with flying colors after some initial adversity. Glen Davis fought through foul trouble and built his All-Star case. 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals and a smack in the back of the head made for another exhausting evening of work for Big Baby. Nik Vucevic poured in 18 points, 13 boards, and 3 assists. Arron Afflalo bounced back from a 3-for-13 debut to show focused anger and pure energy on his way to a 22-point, 4-rebound performance. Afflalo on numerous occasions trucked past multiple Sun defenders. J.J. Redick boosted the bench with 24 points and 6 assists. Jacque Vaughn is 1-0 with a Nelson-Afflalo-Turkoglu-Davis-Vucevic starting five. Don't anticipate that lineup to be together for a lengthy period of time. The loss of Hedo Turkoglu to a broken left hand and Jameer Nelson (groin and ankle) forced Jacque Vaughn to depend more on his youthful bench. Nelson is day-to-day while Hedo is out at least a month after having surgery on Saturday. 2nd-year NBA player E'Twaun Moore and rookie DeQuan Jones, two players that Jacque Vaughn has been most appreciative of for their preseason and training camp efforts, received the nod to start at point guard and small forward. Their first career NBA starts as well. Talk about 'baptism by fire'.

The result? A 2-0 record to begin the 2012-2013 campaign. Moore struggled early but finished with a more than respectable 15 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 3 rebounds. Maurice Harkless was in a suit once again, but Gustavo Ayon debuted in Magic pinstripes to the relief of Orlando's frontcourt depth. Harkless is almost completely back from sports hernia surgery, while 'Goose' played despite having his sprained left thumb wrapped up. DeQuan isn't 100% percent even as he received his dream start guarding Michael Beasley. The Miami Hurricane was unavailable in the home opener with a thigh/hip abductor muscle strain suffered late in the preseason. The Orlando community has been fully supporting DeQuan ever since training camp ensued and hoped adrenaline and excitement would mask any discomfort that the high-leaping 6'8" wing encountered. Well Jones made the roster to his sheer enthusiasm, and began his first regular season contest sooner than even he could have predicted. Jones' start in the second game of the season is the quickest a Magic rookie has started in their career since Dwight Howard did in 2004.

Coach Vaughn on the comeback: "I just think we focused a little bit more. This was a gutsy effort by the men in that locker room, and I'm extremely proud of them."

Alvin Gentry's Phoenix Suns side came into Amway Center 1-1. Though their bench doesn't scare opponents, a starting lineup that includes guys like Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley, and Goran Dragic is beyond respectable. Orlando trailed 33-26 after a bad defensive beginning. Jones actually handled Beasley fairly decently. The problem came when Gustavo Ayon checked in. Goose looked constantly confused on defense while not providing much help rebounding or on offense. Ayon allowed Gortat and Scola to sneak past him baseline off the ball on several occasions. Phoenix would've been up a lot more if not for JJ Redick's 11 points in seven minutes. One of the uniformed soldiers in attendance tore one of the basket nets on a trampoline dunk attempt. That 13-minute delay may have calmed the Magic down. Arron Afflalo scored 7 points in his first ten minutes of action, already matching his output from Friday night. Josh McRoberts had another rough first half off the bench as the former Laker can't find his niche in the offense despite all the energy he plays with. 'McBob' logged a lot of minutes including some at small forward. I don't approve of Josh receiving 13 minutes in any half of basketball. Vucevic actually went toe-to-toe with the popular Gortat, but foul trouble plagued Nik early and it didn't get better when he faced Jermaine O'Neal. Jermaine should not have been as successful protecting the paint as he was. Give Nik credit though, he adjusted and got more aggressive by the close of the first half. Orlando's ball movement was severely lacking  in the initial 18 minutes and reminded me of the nightmarish Rockets defeat in the Magic's final preseason contest. Replacing E'Twaun with Jameer will do that. Fortunately for Moore, he was still drilling his fair share of shots and showing off active hands on defense. Phoenix's bench held firm and actually grew their lead over the home team by double digits on a few occasions when Orlando really should have taken advantage. Despite 16 points from Scola and eleven from Beasley, Orlando only trailed 56-46 at halftime. 

JJ Redick on the comeback: "Two guys set the tone, Glen and Arron...their energy in the 3rd quarter, particularly in the beginning...that was key and it got us back in the game and gave us the spark that we needed."

The start of the 3rd quarter proved just as rough for Jacque Vaughn's crew. Scola and Beasley still couldn't be stopped. Fortunately for the Magic, those were the only 2 Suns providing the scoring load. He only played 16 minutes, but least DeQuan Jones got his first NBA bucket out of the way. Then, around the time Big Baby got whacked in the back of the head, Orlando showed signs of life. What does Nik Vucevic have to do to earn a foul? Seriously. Anyway, Vucevic, Afflalo, and Davis were the main scoring forces who fueled the Magic's 15-3 comeback  run to only trail 71-69 with 4:30 left in the third quarter. Amway Center would erupt on several occasions for Afflalo who would score 10 points and make their run 20-5 to snag the 74-73 lead. It'd be 25-7 after a Vucevic putback and a Moore 3-ball. Call him 3'Twaun. Magic fans were making it sound like the old O-Rena days during that glorious comeback. It's amazing what dribble penetration can open up. You'll earn more whistles in your favor from the refs as well. Going into the final period, Andrew Nicholson made it a 32-8 run and an Orlando 86-76 lead. 67 FG% in one period is a phenomenal sight to behold. Orlando a ridiculous 6-for-6 from 3-point range at that instant. Stan Van Gundy could have died a happy man at that point. 
Coach Vaughn on 'not needing' Jameer Nelson tonight: "Who said we didn't need him? I'll take them all back if you can do that for me. This is our team. Each guy comes to practice every single day."

The final 12 minutes found Andrew Nicholson continuing to bully the hell out of Markieff Morris. The extra strength training is paying off for the Bonnie. Orlando's intensity proved too frustrating for Phoenix. A very pleasant and refreshing new team image developing you would hope under Coach Vaughn. Combine that with out-rebounding and out-assisting opponents, it's very difficult not to love this new Magic squad. Once 'Redickulous' drilled a banking 3-pointer, it was game over for Phoenix. It's very encouraging that Nik beat Gortat in the duel as Vucevic's double-double was better than Marcin's. What stood out most to me was Nik's outrageous game-best plus-minus of +26. When 'Vucci Mane' was on the court, great things happened. Any time your team can shoot a ridiculous 9-of-11 from 3-point range, no game will be out of reach. Orlando is 2-0 at home, to a large chunk of the NBA watching world's amazement. Now can they carry that success on the road? Tuesday and Wednesday will see a Bulls-Timberwolves back-to-back. Keep protecting Amway Center while looking semi-decent on the road, and you can start whispering about Jacque Vaughn having a chance at some Coach of the Year votes. Overreacting I know, but it's tough to contain yourself through such a surprisingly exciting start to a new era in this Magic franchise. Also, if Jamal Crawford ever starts calming down for the Clippers, JJ Redick will be receiving a vast chunk of 6th Man of the Year votes. Redick may get sick of all the free Subway 'sub' sandwiches he'll earn this season for his stellar bench play.