Like most Magic fans, I keep assuming the Magic will eventually come to their senses, start hitting their shots, step up the defense and play like the team we’ve been watching all season.
But after three games, it’s starting to look like it’s not a fluke. It’s not a mirage. You can only say “we’ll turn it around next game” so many times.
We’ve got ourselves a series.
The Sixers were the better team again on Friday night, outhustling and outplaying the Magic in the 96-94 victory.
Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller have proven that they can’t be stopped after posting another huge night, combining for 53 points. And after putting the clamps on Thad Young all night, Rashard Lewis allowed Young to beat him baseline and score the winning layup with 2 seconds left.
Where did the defense go?
It’s beginning to look like it’s not all the Magic’s defensive focus – the Sixers are just too athletic. Hedo Turkoglu can do very little to stay in front of Iguodala, who seems to get within 5 feet of the hoop anytime he wants. Iguodala got to the free-throw line 13 times on Friday night, and the refs wouldn’t have been far off to blow the whistle a few more times on Turkoglu.
Andre Miller can do whatever he wants on Rafer Alston. Things get a little bit better when Courtney Lee switches on to Miller, but then there’s a mismatch elsewhere (see: Willie Green, 12 points, huge jumper to put the Sixers up three with 1:16 to play). In fact, had Miller not missed a wide-open runner with 8 seconds left, the Sixers never would’ve needed Young’s game-winning layup.
What’s the solution? I don’t know. The Magic were far worse in the first half, giving up 60 points and allowing numerous easy layups. The Sixers aren’t intimidated to go at Howard in the paint, and their wings are far too athletic for the Magic to keep away from the basket.
The second half was better. The Magic held the Sixers to only 36 points as they made up a huge deficit, but they ultimately couldn’t get a stop when it mattered. I admire Lewis’ effort on that last play, but you can’t let a player go baseline to the hoop like that. You have to force him to where your help defense is.
The Magic shot a little bit better tonight, making 8-of-20 shots from deep. And Dwight Howard carried Orlando’s offense with 36 points, including 12-of-14 from the stripe. He also knocked down two clutch free throws with 6.9 seconds left to tie the game.
Overall, there wasn’t much positive to take away from this game. Sure, the Magic played well in the second half, but they’ve been playing well in spurts throughout the series. They haven’t been able to put together a complete game, and playing a full 48 minutes is kind of important in the sport of basketball.
Magic’s best: Howard played his heart out, logging more than 44 minutes and playing the entire second half. He posted 36 points and 11 boards, but that wasn’t enough. The Sixers are content single-covering Howard and shutting down the rest of the guys. It’s the best way to defend the Magic. They’re letting Howard do all the damage he wants, but they’re not giving up any open threes and they’re forcing Howard to make free throws.
Magic’s worst:Lewis and Turkoglu need to step up, and they need to do it soon. They missed 18 shots tonight and combined to score four points less than Iguodala. I feel like a broken record – as I’ve typed about this after every game this series – but the Magic are only going as far as their forwards take them.
Up next: The Magic will have a day off before attempting to even the series on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.