The Magic will begin day four of their renewed training camp preparing to take on the Spurs, the top team in the West. Stan Van Gundy is preaching to make every day better than the last. And now with a practice under its belt, Orlando might start making some real progress.
We may not really find out until this brutal stretch of games ends Saturday against Boston.
About a month ago (when things were still looking so good), Orlando and San Antonio played a classic regular season game against each other at the AT&T Center. Things have all changed since then. Orlando remade itself through trades. But San Antonio remade itself through a change in philosophy over the offseason.
I got a chance to ask a few question about this “new-look” Spurs team to Jeff Garcia of Project Spurs in advance of tonight’s game. Also be sure to check out what I had to say over at Project Spurs.
1. San Antonio has redefined itself this season turning from a typically slow, defensive-oriented team to a more up-tempo style. How did the Spurs make such an incredible transformation in just one offseason? Does this put the Spurs back to the front of the pack for Western Conference title contenders?
Jeff Garcia: “It was brewing for some time. Over the summer, it was reported coach Popovich and his coaching staff met and decided it was best to utilize the current roster’s strength. Richard Jefferson does better in a more free-flow offense as do Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, George Hill, Gary Neal, and most of the crew. And it’s been paying off with the best record in the NBA.
“They are Western Conference contenders and a huge threat to the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes they have shown the NBA world they can run-and-gun but this is a team predicated on defense and during this current winning streak, they proven they have not forgotten their defensive roots. Case in point holding the New Orleans Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks to a low scoring affair.”
2. Everyone has been waiting for Tim Duncan to slow down and begin “acting his age” so to speak. What has been the secret to keeping him playing at an elite level and thus keeping the Spurs relevant?
JG: “Quite simply his supporting cast. He does not have to pour in major minutes for the team to win. With Manu Ginobili playing the best of his career, Parker doing his damage, and the rest of the team chipping in, no longer is Duncan the main cog. This allows him to rest and be ready for the stretch run. Scary huh? Knowing Duncan is resting and waiting to be unleashed. However, he has shown he still has “it.” Just go back and look at his stat lines from a few close games. Might open your eyes.”
3. San Antonio did pretty much the same thing Orlando did this offseason in standing pat. A big change has been the improvement of Richard Jefferson. How did he change his approach to find success on this team?
JG: “One name: Gregg Popovich. Over the summer he basically gave RJ and ultimatum — enjoy the summer and be shipped off to another team or work with Popovich. Seems RJ made a wise decision. Now we are seeing the fruits of his labor. He is much more comfortable, being aggressive to the rim and knocking down his shots and in particular the three-point shot.”
4. I guess I am asking everyone this question. What is your take on the moves the Magic made this weekend? Does it help or hurt their chances at getting to the NBA Finals?
JG: “Hurt. Arenas is not the Arenas of old. Sure he will give you a few good games here-and-there but the injuries, inconsistencies, and his stupidity (see gun incident) are a concern. Losing Gortat hurts big-time! Bass is undersized and Howard can do all he can do. Unless there is a quality big-man in free-agency or the Magic pull a trade, this is a gaping hole in the Magic’s armor. Jason Richardson is a nice piece and will fit well with the team. Defensively he is suspect though. Losing Pietrus hurt the Magic defensively.”
5. Finally, who do you think emerges with the win Thursday night?
JG: “Spurs. The Magic just played a tough Dallas Mavericks team and now they have to face the Spurs. With the new Magic players still adjusting to their new team, it might be a long night for Orlando. Still, I see a close game tonight with the Spurs getting a narrow a win.”