Gut Check Time
One thing that has always impressed me about the Magic the past two seasons has been their ability to win games statistics show they have no business in winning. It takes a little bit of luck, and a lot a bit of skill.
At times, that my have been missing this season. Orlando has done a good job weathering the storm, but the January swoon has been disheartening because this quality was missing.
Tonight’s game in Detroit was a gut check though and Orlando passed with low-flying colors in pulling out a win the team needed to maintain its confidence.
The Pistons had several good chances to take the lead or tie the game in the closing seconds. Richard Hamilton missed a mid-range jumper and after two Rashard Lewis free throws, Lewis blanketed Ben Gordon and prevented him from getting off a game-tying three, forcing a turnover to secure the win.
Argue all you want that the Magic should not have blown a 15-point first-half lead against a 15-31 team. It is a very good one. But as former Magic coach Chuck Daly used to always say, “There are no such things as ugly wins.” I am sure Eastern Conference All Star coach Stan Van Gundy ascribes to that feeling. They all count the same and Orlando gutted one out tonight.
The Magic struggled offensively, shooting a not-quite-so-horrible 46.9 percent from the floor and committing 14 turnovers. For the first time in a while, Dwight Howard struggled his way to 16 points while shooting eight of 18 from the line. A good effort from Howard, but not the interstellar performances the Magic have gotten recently.
Detroit outrebounded Orlando 43-38 behind 12 offensive rebounds and nine rebounds apiece from Tayshaun Prince, Jonas Jerebko and Ben Wallace. In addition to that, the speedy point guards continued to give Orlando’s defense problems as Rodney Stuckey led all scorers with 18 points — albeit on 4-of-11 shooting. This helped keep the Pistons in the game and give them a very good chance of winning at the end.
How did Orlando counter this?
The Magic played decently suffocating defense, giving up 39.2 percent shooting and hitting 10 of 22 free throws. Howard had five blocked shots too.
As Orlando’s history has shown, any win in Detroit is a good one. The Magic have won just one of their last nine regular season trips to The Palace of Auburn Hills. We do not need to go into the playoff futility in Detroit.
It did not have to be pretty tonight, but Orlando did what it needed to do and (hopefully) learned what it needed for the next game.
Injuries Testing Magic’s Depth… Again
Jameer Nelson went down in the first quarter with a hyperextended knee. Mickael Pietrus sprained his ankle after landing on a player’s foot in the fourth quarter.
So far, this has been the season of injuries and it looks like the hits keep on coming.
Nelson scored five points in about 10.5 minutes and Pietrus had 14 points and hit four of his five 3-point attempts in nearly 23 minutes before going down. Both Nelson and Pietrus have had their ups and downs statistically this season, but I think most of us can agree that Orlando is a much better team when they play.
Anthony Johnson, playing his first game since the 100-84 win over the Kings on Jan. 22 and playing more than 10 minutes for the first time since a 104-99 win over the Jazz on Dec. 21, scored six points and had three assists and no turnovers in about 21 minutes of play. Not bad for a guy who one could definitely believe is rusty.
The more important thing is that there is no doubt that Johnson would be ready and able to be inserted immediately into the lineup when his number was called.
The same thing can be said for Pietrus’ injury. Matt Barnes has been fairly solid in the starting lineup since mid-December as Pietrus has moved back to the bench. JJ Redick has stepped up and played the best season of his career.
Orlando weathered the first storm of injuries, now it looks like the team will have to get through another one. Vince Carter will need to be better — he again struggled scoring two points on 1-of-8 shooting — for the Magic to keep the division lead this time.
John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com reports Pietrus was still pretty sore after the game and is likely out Tuesday against Milwaukee and Nelson, who has been dealing with soreness and swelling in his knee since returning from surgery on his left knee, is questionable.
Redick Stepping Up
Much of the debate right now with the Magic is whether Stan Van Gundy should insert JJ Redick into the starting lineup ahead of Vince Carter. Whether that argument has merit or not will continue to be debated until/if Vince Carter gets out of his shooting funk.
But Redick made his case for his value to the team once again tonight.
Redick drew a 3-point foul on Richard Hamilton late in the game to give Orlando the lead and sank all three free throws. He is starting to get the nod at the end of games (when who is in the game matters even more) over Carter. And Redick is fulfilling whatever promise anyone thought he could have when Orlando drafted him.
JJ scored 17 points on an inefficient 5-of-11 shooting (2 of 6 from beyond the arc). This a night after Redick scored eight points and dished out a career-high seven assists against the Hawks.
Redick is still something of a mystery. He did not shoot fantastic tonight or Saturday against Atlanta. But he is shooting 47 percent from the floor, 43.5 percent from beyond the arc and scoring 11.2 points per game in his last five games. He is averaging career highs in points (9.7) and 3-point field goal percentage (40.9%). Now that also comes with more minutes as Van Gundy has trusted Redick more this season than at any time before in his career.
But the groundswell support for Redick and his play on the court certainly show that Redick has been a very pleasant surprise this year for Orlando.