ORLANDO — The Magic are still a work in progress. One game is not going to change the long road the Magic have to returning to an elite team in the NBA. There is still plenty of work to be done on both ends of the basketball.
But one night sure can convince you of how close the team really is and how good it can be at one point.
Orlando thoroughly whooped Western Conference-leading San Antonio to hand the team its fourth loss overall and just its second on the road. The Magic beat the Spurs so bad Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. By then Orlando had a 21-point lead that never shrunk to the point where Stan Van Gundy had to worry.
A 34-point second quarter and a 35-point third quarter were more than enough as the suddenly fast-breaking Magic defeated the Spurs 123-101 at Amway Center on Thursday.
“That was pretty good,” Stan Van Gundy said. “I thought our energy on the offensive side of the floor was fantastic. We still have a ways to go defensively but we did a little bit better there tonight. Our energy was tremendous, and it was great to see a lot of guys play well.”
The Magic, who until this point averaged the fewest fast break points in the NBA, scored 30 fast break points running right back at the Spurs — who don’t mind breaking themselves. San Antonio, to Orlando’s defensive credit, scored only two fast break points.
Tonight though was all about the energy, effort and offense.
The Magic shot 59.5 percent from the floor and hit on 13 of their 25 3-point attempts. Dwight Howard dominated inside in scoring 29 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He missed only two of his 13 shot attempts. Brandon Bass pitched in 17 and JJ Redick scored 17 as well, making all five of his 3-point attempts.
Arguably though, it was the new guys each having their “aha” moments that pushed Orlando over the top.
“With all those kinds of weapons, they got to pick their poison,” Gilbert Arenas said. “I guess that’s why I’m coming off the pick and roll and everyone’s sagging back because they don’t want to get dunked on by Dwight and they don’t want to leave the shooters. So I’ve got an easy jump shot right here.”
The three players acquired in the trade snap out of their respective funks since arriving in Orlando. Jason Richardson got to work early scoring eight of his 15 points in the first quarter to get the team going and keep pace with a hot-shooting Spurs team that was finding it relatively easy to get into the paint and find open shooters. Gilbert Arenas got going in the second quarter, scoring seven points as the Magic expanded the lead to double digits. Arenas finished with 14 points, six rebounds and nine assists. Hedo Turkoglu turned in a consistent 11 points and six assists.
The offense was clicking on all cylinders tonight. The ball was working inside-out, around the perimeter, into the paint and any other way Orlando needed it to. Orlando had a season-high 31 assists on its season-high 50 field goals. The fast break and speed game also were sure to keep the Magic going as the energy was infectious for the players.
This did not look like a team that lost eight of its last nine games. Or a team that was put together less than a week ago.
Still, the team mantra of making progress was still prevalent. And there are still some areas Orlando wants to improve. A win though, sure makes it easier to digest.
“We’re going to make mistakes,” Jameer Nelson said. “Offensively, we’re not going to be as crisp. Defensively, things are going to be different for guys. One thing we can control is play with energy and play with intensity. And I think for the most part, throughout the 48 minutes, our intensity level was higher than theirs.”
No doubt, again, the Magic are still learning how to play together. The potential of this team was shown to a national audience in the victory over the Spurs. But there is still plenty of room for improvement. Stan Van Gundy pointed to defensive and half-court execution as areas where the team still needs some work.
But if this is what the Magic can do off of one practice, there is plenty of promise when things finally come together.