It has been 12 days since Otis smith remade Orlando’s roster with two blockbuster trades that sent two starters out of town and two new starters in. A five-game winning streak with only one practice is quite an impressive feat. Even if the team is ultimately still a little rough around the edges.
The Magic have played incredibly well since acquiring Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson almost two weeks ago. A 112-103 victory over the budding New York Knicks is not going to change that opinion. But a five-game win streak does not cover all the faults still wrested with this team as it comes together. And the next three days — where the team will practice twice — will certainly help flatten the edges.
Orlando took control with a 40-point second quarter, but needed to hold on and get big shots from Turkoglu, Richardson and JJ Redick down the stretch to hold on for a victory after the Knicks scored 59 points in the second half, taking advantage of some sloppy Orlando play.
The Magic are still showing their potential alongside their blemishes as this new lineup still makes itself comfortable with each other.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half, but I thought we defended well,” Stan Van Gundy said. “I thought we played with a lot of energy. I thought we started the second half slowly and we didn’t have a lot of energy early on. We let them get back in the game very quickly, which let them get their confidence back. We had to hold on down the stretch, but I liked the way we finished the game out.”
The Magic placed seven of the nine players who played in double figures, led by Dwight Howard’s 24 points and 18 rebounds. Turkoglu added 17 and Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson and JJ Redick each contributed 14 points.
Orlando had 22 assists on 41 field goals led by Nelson’s seven and Gilbert Arenas’ six.
When the Magic’s offense was rolling it was really rolling as the team was sharing the ball. The team’s offense stagnated when players were trying to do too much and turning the ball over.
“I think we’re playing, for the most part, unselfish,” Nelson said. “Guys are looking for guys and guys are being aggressive but staying under control. I think we had some turnovers that were really unforced. But that happens in a game. Nobody got discouraged and nobody got passive. We all stayed on each other to be aggressive and make the right play.”
The Knicks trailed by 18 at halftime after giving up 40 points in the second quarter, conceding 13 free throws on 15 attempts. Brandon Bass had 10 of his 14 points in the quarter as Orlando opened the lead up. It helped take the sting away from a first half where the Magic shot only 41.7 percent, but got 21 free throw attempts and scored 62 points.
New York had some answers in the second half, trimming Orlando’s lead to single digits while on a 9-2 run in the middle of the quarter. The Knicks got it to six before the Magic extended the lead back out to 11. The Magic committed six turnovers in the third quarter that turned into 14 points. Van Gundy said a lot of them were of the careless variety.
It helped New York climb back into the game.
“It feels good to see us coming together as a team. But we still have to continue to get better. We’ve got to do a better job on defense. Tonight, we relaxed in the second half and we allowed them to get back in the game. We’ve got to do a better job on that end. Despite the fouls or the frustration or whatever, we’ve got to play better defense.”
The Knicks had another run in them and got the lead down to five by the midway point of the fourth quarter and then down to two after Amar’e Stoudemire made an and-one and gave Howard his fourth personal foul.
The Knicks were playing their game and got big efforts from Stoudemire (30 points and four rebounds) and Wilson Chandler (a season-high 29 points and nine rebounds).
Orlando struggled defensively in the fourth quarter, giving up 71.4 percent field goal shooting and sending New York to the line 13 times. The Magic had their own struggles offensively, making only 4 of 11 free throw attempts in the second half and 4 of 12 3-point attempts. The now-fast-breaking Magic had only two transition points in the half and just 10 in the game. Quite surprising against a Knicks team that is not afraid to run.
“Quite honestly, I thought the pace in the first half was better for us,” Van Gundy said. “I thought we slowed down in the second half. It was interesting Craig Sager tried talking to me about the pace, I thought the pace got slower. I thought that was the problem. I thought the faster pace benefited us more than it benefited them quite honestly.”
The game was still played at a high pace and the Magic’s defense still came up with the stops it needed to earn the win. The Magic closed out the game with Hedo Turkoglu draining a 3-pointer with Stoudemire in his face (a shot no coach would like anyone taking), Turkoglu driving in for a layup with Stoudemire trying to avoid his sixth foul and JJ Redick hitting a pull-up jumper with 50 seconds left to give the Magic a 10-point lead.
In the end Orlando just got the job done.