Let me start off by saying that I’m in Washington D.C. for the week, and I spent Wednesday night at the Cavaliers-Wizards game at the Verizon Center. As both teams figure to challenge Orlando in the East, I figure some quick and random thoughts on this game are relevant to this blog. Here’s what I took away from this game:
The Wizards won the game because of a dominant fourth quarter in which Gilbert Arenas played ZERO minutes. I guess the moniker Agent Zero works on more than one level. With Arenas and Antawn Jamison resting, the Wizards took and built the lead behind some exceptional play from Earl Boykins, Deshawn Stevenson and Andray Blatche (and LeBron was playing most of the time). I don’t know, the Wizards fans love their starting five of Arenas-Miller-Butler-Jamison-Haywood, but it seems like there isn’t enough ball movement with those five on the floor.
Speaking of Jamison, it was his first game this season. He didn’t disappoint, scoring 11 first-quarter points on his way to 31 for the game. Though he’s a pretty good player, he’s part of the reason the Wizards don’t scare me for the Magic. They have no one to defend Dwight Howard, and Jamison is a really similar player to Rashard Lewis; he shoots a lot, plays a lot on the perimeter, is an adequate defender and doesn’t really rebound — only Jamison doesn’t have the luxury of the league’s best rebounder next to him.
Shaq didn’t play, and — in an unrelated note — the Cavs offense didn’t look good. LeBron did whatever he wanted, but the Cavs mustered very little outside of that. Mo Williams looked more like the Mo Williams of last season’s playoffs, missing almost everything he took. Honestly, neither team seemed like they could beat a healthy Orlando team. But it is November. Now, on to the Magic game. I didn’t watch it until very late last night. But it was great to see the Magic take it to the Thunder, who crushed the Magic on Nov. 8. The Magic used another balanced scoring attack, with eight players scoring at least nine points. Vince Carter led the way with 18 points.
1. The team played with an intensity that’s been missing over the last couple weeks. Said Dwight Howard after the game, via the Sentinel: “I think tonight as a team we brought a lot of energy and our effort was great from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. So, that was a great thing to see because in past games we haven’t played with a lot of energy. But tonight we made a great step forward in playing with a lot of energy.” While I don’t always buy the lack of energy excuse — it’s usually more a matter of execution, but it’s easier to blame it on energy — it does seem valid here. This team was not putting enough emphasis and focus on the defensive end of the floor over the last week or two, and tonight that changed.
2. It didn’t take long for Rashard Lewis to shake off the rust. Playing both the 3 and 4, Lewis played one of his best all-around games in a Magic uniform and nearly posted his first career triple-double. Lewis registered 17 rebounds, 10 points and 9 assists — and the assists are an element to Lewis’ game that we’ll continue to see more of as he plays small forward more and more. Most of the assists were to 3s, it seemed, but it was still impressive. After the way Lewis struggled from the field on Monday night, it was great to see him play well against Oklahoma City.
3. This was practically a scheduled loss for Oklahoma City. The Magic had Tuesday off after a home game on Monday, while Oklahoma City played an away game on Tuesday night, then travelled in the middle of the night to Orlando for a game the next night. This is one of the NBA’s “scheduled losses,” where the circumstances make it incredibly difficult for one team to win over the other. Still, the Magic had to love getting revenge on the Thunder after a blowout loss last week.
What to like Sans Jameer Nelson, the Magic’s new point-guard duo of Jason Williams and Anthony Johnson played efficiently and effectively. Williams didn’t blow up the stat sheet, but he did what he needed to do — stay out of the way and get the ball to the team’s playmakers. His four points and five assists won’t make the ESPN bottom line, but a couple other stats — such as one turnover and holding Russell Westbrook to 3-of-11 shooting — were instrumental to the victory. Also, let it be known that Brandon Bass seems to be on the outside looking in at the Magic’s rotation. Bass didn’t see the floor until 6:21 of the fourth quarter, when the game was well in hand. Mickael Pietrus played his best game of the season, scoring 14 points and locking down Kevin Durant. Pietrus’ +26 was only outdone by Rashard Lewis (+29) and Jason Williams (+27).
What not to like The Magic were outscored 36-20 in the fourth quarter. To most, it doesn’t matter much in a blowout game, but you know Stan Van Gundy didn’t like it. And Howard saw foul trouble again, exiting the game midway through the first quarter after picking up his second foul. Yeah, I don’t think Gortat is going anywhere anytime soon.
Magic number: The Magic’s defensive rating is down to 102.8, which is 11th in the league. They were 21st in the league a week ago.
Magic’s best: I’m going to say Pietrus, who played exceptionally on both offense and defense. This is the Pietrus they need. It seems like Pietrus been asleep for much of this season.
Magic’s worst: It’s hard to give a “worst” in a game like this, but let’s say Matt Barnes, for no other reason than he had a team-worst -16 in the +/- department.
Up next: The Magic will receive their biggest test of the season on Friday night, heading to the northeast to take on the Celtics. The game is at 8 p.m. and it’ll be televised on ESPN and Sun Sports.