Somewhere buried deep inside this Magic team is an offensive team waiting to explode and a defensive team waiting to suffocate.
We see this team in stretches and we see it maddeningly fall short of potential. Maybe, just maybe, this team is starting to see the light.
Yes, turnovers are still an issue and the team loses focus at times. The way though that Orlando has taken care of business against some of these lower tier teams, this Magic team seems to be making some sort of turn toward seriousness and toward gearing up for the postseason.
Is it perfect yet? Hardly.
Just signs of consistency and signs of heading toward that right direction seem to be what the Magic are looking for more than anything right now.
Orlando took control early by getting the ball moving and working to get and make open 3-pointers. Defensively, the Magic were just as active and suffocating, doing a good job closing out the driving lanes and turning the Cavaliers into a jump-shooting team. Orlando were clearly the aggressors from the start and raced out to as much as a 21-point lead and easily won 93-80 at Amway Center.
Cleveland made only one run to threaten the lead and got it down to eight or nine points. Orlando had the marksmanship throughout the game to keep Cleveland from really threatening. The Magic were 12 for 35 from beyond the arc, taking 22 in the first half. But it was not a case of just jacking up 3-pointers. This was a case of some great ball movement. And that was key for the Magic in scoring 31 points in the first quarter.
Orlando finished the evening with 24 assists on 31 field goals. There was rarely a made shot that did not come off of ball reversal or a drive and kick.
That is how this team is supposed to work when things are going well. You had Hedo Turkoglu turning the corner early and trying to get to the basket. He scored 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting and dished out seven assists to go with six rebounds. He did most of that damage in the first half before beginning to take some questionable shots and turnovers took over his play in the second half.
But when you have Turkoglu attacking and looking to set others up, it does create the kind of ball-moving attitude and rhythm that the Magic want offensively. All five starters scored in double figures with Ryan Anderson scoring a team-high 17 points (although he shot 3 for 11 from beyond the arc).
Dwight Howard was eating up a lot of attention. Cleveland’s strategy was to prevent Howard from getting clean post looks (he took only eight field goal attempts and six free throw attempts) and from rolling to the basket. Howard still managed 16 points. But all that extra attention opened up the perimeter.
And the Magic took advantage in shooting better than 70 percent effective field goal percentage in the first half thanks to all the 3-pointers.
Eventually you knew the shots would not fall and that is where the improved focus and intensity on defense really showed.
Cleveland shot 37.8 percent from the floor and committed 14 turnovers of its own. And of course, the most important stat, scored only 80 points. Rotations again were pretty crisp and quick and just about every shot was contested.
The only regret from Stan Van Gundy was that his strategy of having Howard hedge on pick and rolls to keep Kyrie Irving from penetrating (it worked as Irving had only 13 points and six assists on 6-for-15 shooting) left the offensive glass open. Cleveland had 16 offensive rebounds and it helped the team keep possessions alive, particular when Cleveland made its run in the third quarter.
The Magic were mostly quick to recover in these situations and did a good job contesting these shots around the basket when they were not overplaying for blocks and steals.
The other problem was of course the turnovers. Orlando had 20 of them. Some of them were extremely lazy too. The kind that Stan Van Gundy surely loses sleep over but really cannot control. This continues to be Orlando’s greatest offensive shortcoming and is the one thing holding the team back from really blowing these lesser teams out and staying more competitive with the elite teams that Orlando has struggled to compete with.
This is something the Magic will continue to fight and fight through for the remainder of the season.
One thing is sure, the Magic can be deadly efficient when the ball is moving and they are not turning the ball over. Again, the Magic teased with that potential. It is coming together. The question is whether it will stay together when the pressure ramps up. The Magic still have plenty of tune ups to re-establish those habits.