JJ Redick has been waiting in the wings ready should anything happen to Orlando’s back court rotation. Redick has had a breakthrough season this year, doing the little things and filling his role — namely shooting and decent defense.
On the night his Duke Blue Devils made the Final Four for the first time since 2004, when Redick was on the team.
It is safe to say Redick has improved much since then. But perhaps for the first time in a Magic uniform, Redick showed why college teams feared him throughout March when he was on campus.
Twenty-three points, a career-high eight assists, a career-high seven rebounds and Duke in the Final Four all while filling in for a North Carolina teammate? Not a bad day.
Vince Carter did not practice Saturday after spraining his ankle in Friday’s win over the Timberwolves. He gave it a go early Sunday, but after running into a screen set by Nene on the first defensive possession of the game, he came up limping. A 3-pointer was his only shot attempt and it fell flat off the back iron.
The Magic quickly called a timeout and pulled him from the game. He did not return.
That pressed Redick into double duty with Mickael Pietrus also out of the game with an ankle injury. Redick shot eight of 15 from the floor and three of seven from beyond the arc in playing 46 minutes tonight.
Add in Matt Barnes again providing tough defense and holding Carmelo Anthony without a field goal in the fourth quarter and Orlando had a pretty solid 103-97 win over Denver at Amway Arena on Sunday night.
Redick was the big story of the night. He certainly stepped up in Carter’s stead and without him, the Magic do not have a shot against a solid — but struggling — Nuggets team.
He really did look how he looked at Duke. Redick was curling off screen and hitting pull up jumpers in rhythm. Where he has gotten better is at catching defenders off balance running at him to the 3-point line and pump faking to drive in for the mid range jumper. He is pretty efficient at doing that and he had it working today.
What made Orlando most effective tonight, especially in the second half, was the team’s ball movement. There was a moment in the first half when the Magic were struggling to put the ball in the basket with the ball circling around the perimeter and not really getting inside. They led by one, but shot at around 44 percent.
Not horrible numbers, by any stretch.
But as Orlando often does, the team makes the extra pass. If anyone drove in, the ball either went toward the hoop or back out to the perimeter. That first person was rarely the one to shoot as he passed the ball to the next guy for a wide open shot.
The Nuggets were a little slow to rotate and collapsed pretty quickly to leave shooters open around the perimeter. They did a good job protecting the rim (relatively) with three blocked shots. But the Magic pretty much held the one-point lead at the half on the strength of their free throw shooting.
Orlando finished the evening 14 of 22 from the line and most of those makes occurred in the first half, keeping Orlando in the game as Denver shot better than 50 percent.
In the second half, the Magic got out on the break and got up the court. They worked the inside out game perfectly and, as mentioned made the extra pass. Ryan Anderson, again playing behind Rashard Lewis, had 19 points. Matt Barnes had 16 points and Jameer Nelson scored 15 points.
Nelson, in fact, probably played his best game against Chauncey Billups. It still looked at times like Billups was muscling him around, but Nelson more than held his own — minus a few attempts at flopping. Billups scored 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting with five assists.
The defense generated a lot of the offense and created a lot of the energy for the offense. Anthony, again, did not have a field goal in the final quarter. He scored 26 points on 11-of-25 shooting. Barnes did a lot of the work on Anthony, making his life hard. No one can hold Anthony down for a full game, but Barnes held him down and forced him out of the game in the fourth.
Orlando had control of this game and were never really threatened by a very good Denver team, slowly pulling away toward the end.
And as always, it all started and ended with Dwight Howard.
The Magic went to him early and he had his way inside. He had 11 points by the end of the quarter and finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He picked himself up a little in the fourth quarter too and made some big shots to keep the defense honest and collapsed around him.
He also played a very smart game. He swatted a shot into the stands early in the game, but after picking up his first foul decided to simply challenge and change shots throughout the game. He deterred a lot of shots at the rim — as he usually does — and kept the Nuggets on the perimeter.
Everything was simply in sync tonight for Orlando.