The message following Saturday’s 114-98 win over the Bucks was displayed clearly on the dry erase board inside the Amway Center locker room.
In big black letters, probably to emphasize some larger point about the season and where it has been and where it could go, were four simple statements:
“39 2nd quarter
38 2nd 1/2″
That was the message Orlando needed to take out of this otherwise easy victory over the team that it has beaten four times in the last 22 days. There is a good team inside Orlando. There is a good defensive team there, it just needs to be the focus and priority for the remainder of the season if the team wants to get where it wants to go.
To do that, it has to have defensive performances like it had for 36 minutes of the game for the entire game. What the team cannot do is is give up the kind of quarters it gave up in the second.
The Magic dominated the game with great ball movement and some energetic play on both ends, but the 39-point second quarter stood out most. And it was the painful reminder of the work the Magic still have to do despite this dominating 114-98 win.
“We eliminated their easy points and really did a great job of moving the ball on the other end,” Ryan Anderson said. “I think getting those stops, really gave us a ton of energy on the other end, and we got some easy buckets because of it.”
Dwight Howard scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Hedo Turkoglu had 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and dished out nine assists. Jameer Nelson added eight poitns and 10 assists and Jason Richardson scored 18 points. The offense was taken care of.
There was no talk of offense as the Magic saw a 17-point first-quarter lead trimmed all the way down to nothing by the end of the second quarter. This one looked like the first three Magic/Bucks games in reverse. Something had to change on the defensive end for the Magic to get this kind of win.
In the second quarter, Milwaukee shot 15 of 23 from the floor and four for seven from beyond the arc. Milwaukee got balanced scoring and simply made shots. They got 16 points in the paint and attacked with Dwight Howard on the bench. The Magic could not get much offense going with Howard out and the lead was down from 15 to three points four minutes into the quarter with a 14-2 run.
Nobody was getting many stops from that point. And you knew Van Gundy was not going to be happy.
So how did the Magic respond? With a bit of a defensive clinic in the second half.
“We just had to play defense,” Jameer Nelson said of what Stan Van Gundy told his team at halftime. “We just had to keep them out of the paint as much as we could and our defense had to get better, and it did.”
The Bucks scored only 38 points and shot 13 for 36 (36.1 percent) from the floor in the second half. Orlando dominated on both sides of the ball in forcing 13 turnovers. Orlando got out on the break off those turnovers, getting 11 fastbreak points and hitting on 6 for 11 3-pointers.
Like Stan Van Gundy said, the offense was not the problem with this team or in this game. The Magic shot 51.9 percent for the game and made 14 3-pointers. The team got to the line 27 times (13 outside of Dwight Howard) and had six players reach double figures — including Chris Duhon and J.J. Redick off the bench. Lots of players contributed and the only lull came in that second quarter run Milwaukee used to get back into the game.
More importantly, the ball was moving as Orlando took the lead early and worked to maintain it late. Jameer Nelson had 10 assists and Turkoglu had nine, including five in the second half, as Orlando had 26 asissts on its 42 field goal makes.
“Everybody who stepped into the game for us played well,” Jameer Nelson said. “The way we finished the game out is the way we need to. Especially when we’re up five or six, let’s go up 15 or 20.”
The Magic were not only running, 25 fast break points overall, but they were catching the Bucks before their defense could get set. That created the mismatches and deep post position Dwight Howard loves to get that get him easy baskets around the rim, especially considering Milwaukee’s general lack of size.
Offense, again, was no issue for Orlando. The team was getting good shots consistently and hitting them with relative ease. The only issue to take was 22 turnovers (that led to 18 Milwaukee points).
“When we get into our offense and we’re playing at a better pace, we tend to get easier shots,” Dwight Howard said. “When everyone is just walking around, teams are able to defend us. We have to do more of that.
“It’s better for us [to run]. For me, it’s a lot better because I get to get easy buckets, and get paint catches and get the opportunity to go before the defense is set. And it’s better for our team. We get opportunities for threes, the pick and roll is a lot easier when we’re running and the defense is not set.”
The Magic typically play with a pace in the low 90s, but played tonight at a pace of approximately 100 possessions. Orlando, like against Oklahoma State, was looking to get into its offense much earlier.
Offense was not the problem. It was just that uneasy feeling the inconsistent defense gave once again. Milwaukee’s big quarter was also matched with 40 points in the paint even against Howard. Ersan Ilyasova had another nice offensive game with 18 points and Brandon Jennings led the team with 27. If Milwaukee had any answer inside for Dwight Howard (like, any), the defensive issues could have been much bigger.
But consistency, especially on the defensive end, has been the sticking point all season for Orlando. And Stan Van Gundy made sure his team understood that coming out of this win with those four words on his white board.