After losing four straight games and seeing its lead dwindle to a half game in the Southeast Division, it seemed like the sky was falling for Orlando. The offense was stagnant and struggling. The defense could do only enough to keep them in games, but not enough to win them.
The championship expectations began weighing on the Magic and it was clear in the body language and the play that they were not completely there. Losing the division lead one could imagine would only add to that pressure.
So with all the pressure bubbling underneath the surface, it was about time for it to all come to the surface. The offensive explosion that spewed forth was a little unexpected.
Orlando blitzed Atlanta for a 29-21 lead after one quarter and then outscored the Hawks 37-16 in the second quarter for a 66-37 halftime lead. The Magic led by as much as 38 points and waltzed to an easy victory over their division rivals.
JJ Redick scored 17 points replacing Vince Carter in the lineup and Matt Barnes led the team with 18 points. The bench had 46 points to Atlanta’s 33. The Magic broke out of their shooting slump to hit 52.4 percent of their shots. The Hawks were kept cold and shot 39.7 percent from the floor.
It is undoubtedly nice to see Orlando’s offense awaken in such a dramatic manner — the team also hit on 12 of 28 3-pointers — especially before the four-game Western road trip that is coming up. Considering how dead the offense looked after the past four games and how listless the team was playing, it was also nice to see the team not only break out of that but rise up to the occasion.
Last year’s team prided itself on playing under adversity and sneaking under the radar. The pressure the team has felt this year is something these players have probably never experienced. I would imagine it is very different to have pressure put on you from the outside than just putting pressure on yourself. I would bet that compounds it.
So with the division lead on the line, Orlando played up to its competition and showed up. It is no excuse for not showing up the previous four games (all against sub-.500 teams), but the bigger stage and better competition probably brought the best out of the Magic tonight. I do not think it is too far fetched.
At any rate, one game does not solve all the problems Orlando has. A single game of 82 is relatively insignificant. A string of games can have a much bigger impact on the season.
So the Magic seemed to have turned it around a bit. But we will not really know until Orlando takes the floor in Sacramento later this week. Hopefully some of the things that were successful tonight will carry over and re-inspire confidence in the team. Something that was sorely missing in the recent stretch of games.
And who knows, perhaps the adversity of Vince Carter’s injury is exactly what this team needs to regain some of its hunger. It certainly seemed like the Magic had some of it back tonight with everything working against the Hawks.