The game can look so easy when the shots come so close.
The inside-out game seems so simple when it is executed effectively. It can make any team seem like world beater.
The Magic certainly know that after seeing the stark difference between their efforts in the opener at Oklahoma City and the effort Monday night at Amway Center. Orlando scored 56 points in the paint, taking 43 shots down low. That kind of aggression gave Orlando at least part of the energy Stan Van Gundy was looking for when he bemoaned his team’s struggles in the opener against Oklahoma City.
Orlando seized control of the game over Houston quickly in the first half and took the lead for good on a Glen Davis layup with 10:09 to play in the second quarter. The Magic seemed to let their margin yo-yo from around 10 points to one possession for the rest of the game. Houston though did not have the shooting or the ability to make the comeback. Hedo Turkoglu scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, hitting on five of his six shots including all three 3-pointers.
By the fourth quarter, the Magic had done their damage in the paint. Those drives which carved up Houston’s defense left shooters open and in rhythm beyond the arc. When Hedo Tukoglu dropped in a 3-pointer with about 90 seconds remaining, the rest of the game seemed elemental. Orlando had secured its first victory of the season with a 104-95 effort.
“That’s just the NBA,” Jason Richardson said. “You’ve got to forget about the day before and focus on the day ahead. Especially the way the season is, we’ve got to learn to win on back-to-back nights. We did a good job tonight.”
The Magic had a much different look offensively tonight.
Orlando aimed to attack the paint. The team got 56 points in the paint and 43 attempts in the paint. Compared to Sunday’s game, where the Magic post 30 points int he paint on 31 field goal attempts and it is a marked improvement.
Orlando, which shot worse than 40 percent in Sunday’s loss at Oklahoma City, shot 53.0 percent for the game and 9 for 22 from beyond the arc. There was little to be upset about offensively as the Magic totaled 19 assists including another six from Jameer Nelson. He did not provide the same scoring punch as last game, but he found a way to keep creating.
His aggressive play was not the one that should be pointed out though. Turkoglu looked like a 2009 version of himself and he showed that he can still have big games. As Glen Davis said after the game, Turkoglu is the Magic’s “guy” and the second option offensively. Orlando needs him to be aggressive.
You cannot argue with an effort where he scores 23 points, shoots 10 for 14, dishes out four assists and grabs six rebounds. It was the kind of throwback performance the Magic need more of from Turkoglu.
“Across the board tonight, we played better offensively,” J.J. Redick said. “There was more ball movement, more movement, more energy. And when that happens, it’s a little easier to get into a rhythm. Generally speaking, when you’re in a rhythm, you shoot the ball better.”
But Turkoglu was not alone in this newfound aggression. After struggling in the first game with turnovers and aggression, Chris Duhon too put in a solid performance with five points and two assists (to just one turnover). Those numbers are not eye popping in 17:37 of play, but he was looking to get into the paint and make things happen. His passes were more on balance and, yes, he started looking for his own shot in the second half.
J.J. Redick too put in a great game off the bench after struggling to hit a shot Sunday. Redick scored 20 points off the bench on 8-for-12 shooting. His baseling jumper off a curl and dish from Dwight Howard put the Magic up by eight and, capped by Turkoglu’s 3-pointer, put the game ultimately out of reach.
The Magic are far from a complete team at this point though.
The defense was still prone to giving up free throws and the offense had its drought in the second quarter. orlando could never quite put Houston away. Some overrotations and lax effort in the second half allowed the Rockets to hang around. Luis Scola scored 19 points and Kyle Lowry was aggressive in recording 20 points and 12 assists. He got to the line 10 times, half of the Rockets’ 20 free throw attempts.
There is still a feeling that the team is a little sporadic, as Stan Van Gundy put it. The team is slowly building toward consistency but is not quite there yet.
“We had some guys bounce back and have better games tonight and then we had some other guys fall off, it’s tough right now,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We haven’t had anybody in the first two games have two good games. Hopefully that consistency will come pretty quick.”
It feels like the preseason just a bit still. Even though the team’s turnovers are down — Orlando committed just 11 tonight — the fouling is still up. The Magic have conceded at least 20 free throws in all four games the team has played this year (including the preseason games). Some of that is to be expected, but there were times Monday when Luis Scola (19 points on 8-for-18 shooting) and Courtney Lee scored 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
The level of competition was certainly different tonight against Houston as compared to the Western Conference favorite Oklahoma City.
Monday was clearly a much better effort from Orlando and getting to where the team wants to be. But they are still building up to that speed. These games count though, and at 1-1, the Magic better find that consistency sooner rather than later. The Magic hope that they can stockpile wins while they get to that stage.
“It has to feel like the regular season when the records count,” Duhon said. “I think the first two weeks you’re probably going to see a little sloppy play, guys are not quite together, guys are starting to get their wind back. But then after that, things should get better. These first two weeks, you have to find a way to weather the storm and find a way to get better faster than slower.”
The Magic drove their way to a finish against the Rockets. Question is: will they do that again Thursday?