Signs of progress have not been abundant since the ending of a nine-game win streak a few weeks ago. The defensive and offensive focus has been on and off, showing glimpses of what this team could be. The gloom and doom that surrounded this team entering and after the Miami game Thursday was palpable as some are beginning to think Orlando does not have what it takes to even get out of the first round.
Rumors of the Magic’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. This is not to say everything is going to be OK and Orlando is going to win the title. But after the near comeback Thursday night, the Magic needed to build on the last six minutes and show some progress on both ends of the floor.
Washington may have been the perfect victim for that. The young Wizards team played hard and put up a ton of resistance. But the Magic finally found a way to grind out a victory and walk away with a complete effort. It did not have to be pretty after a crushing defeat at home to the Heat the night before, but Orlando regained some of its moxie (perhaps) with a 110-92 victory at Washington on Friday.
This one was not easy, even though the score may indicate otherwise. Orlando seemed to muddle through the second quarter once again after taking a 14-point first-quarter lead and looking like it would dominate. But as Stan Van Gundy pointed out at after the game, his team was tired. Dwight Howard was extremely efficient, but clearly needed a break after playing all 48 minutes in Thursday’s loss.
The Wizards were able to take advantage and closed the gap and kept things close in the second and third quarters.
But (finally) it was only a matter of time before the Magic would overwhelm the Wizards. Orlando shot 2 for 14 on 3-pointers in the first half, often settling for the quick jumpers that seem to frustrate everyone. The Magic caught fire, playing much more aggressively and moving the ball a lot more, and hit 10 of 17 in the second half.
Combined with Dwight Howard’s efficient 22 points on 10-for-11 shooting and THAT is Magic basketball.
Orlando is clearly a much better team when the ball is moving and forcing the defense to move with it. In the second half, the Magic did a much better job working inside-out, using Howard as the fulcrum. It was not just one pass to the perimeter, dribble and hoist a three — a pattern that has been noted whenever the offense stalls. Instead there were possessions where three or four guys touched the ball and the ball whipped around the perimeter quickly to find the best open shooter.
Once one guys get confident, it seems to spread like wildfire. And it was late in that third quarter when Orlando finally took complete control.
JJ Redick hit a few 3-pointers off that great ball rotation and it seemed like the flood gates had lifted as the team scored 36 points in the fourth quarter. Adding to the positives was one of the better defensive efforts this team has put in recently. Stan Van Gundy even pointed out Gilbert Arenas’ defensive effort as the best it has been since he joined the team in December.
Washington shot 45.2 percent and committed 14 turnovers. Their offensive rating was at 96.8 in a fast-paced game that saw 95 possessions. Orlando did a good job grinding out this victory. That is what Van Gundy wanted to see from his team.
The numbers defensively do not even say it all. Orlando just played a better, more patient game. The Magic grinded out a victory, something they have not been able to do recently. And that is a positive sign.
So for the first time in a long time, the Magic will likely feel good about a win with little concern or areas of improvement. The Magic finally took care of business. The only worry is getting it to carry over into the next game.