The Magic were ready to blow the doors off the Verizon Center. Then they were not. They were struggling to make shots and take care of the ball. Then it seemed no shot could be missed. They played without energy in one moment and then found the after burners and buried the Wizards in the next.
Welcome to the reality of the Orlando Magic’s 2011-12 season. Even after the All-Star Break, this team still has not found the consistent energy necessary to dominate a game from start to finish and absolutely bury inferior opponents.
The Magic picked apart the Wizards early with pinpoint passing, inside-out play and the typical 3-point barrage. Orlando had a 17-point lead in the first quarter and looked on its way to a runaway victory against a bottom-feeder opponent.
Only the malaise that has plagued the Magic sit in. The lead was five by halftime. It was a deficit in the third quarter. Eventually, Orlando needed to rely on its fourth quarter prowess to pull away and secure a 102-95 win at Verizon Center over Washington.
Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson took on that role, knocking down big shots and making big plays for teammates as the Magic finally broke away and had the final run to win this one.
And it was a game of runs.
The fourth quarter itself seemed like a see-saw battle. The Magic scored the first eight points of the quarter to extend their one-point lead to nine points, only to see the Wizards bounce back and bring it back to within one possession. Orlando would then expand it out again and Washington would bring it close. The end seemed to come to having that extra reserve and poise to close out.
The Magic certainly took it to another gear to put the game away, finally finding the motivation to put in the kind of effort Stan Van Gundy and everyone who watches the team knows that it is capable of. The question is: where was it after the first quarter?
The Magic shot 50 percent in the first quarter and took as much as a 17-point lead, ending the quarter up 27-18. The Wizards needed a late 7-0 run just to get to 18. Orlando was moving the ball crisply around the horn, driving inside and out, setting up both Dwight Howard and Jason Richardson in the post and taking care of the ball.
Defensively, Orlando was forcing long two-point jumpers and keeping John Wall away from the rim. Shots were challenged and everything seemed good for an easy 20-plus-point blowout.
The Magic’s effort and energy has been a source of concern all year. Stan Van Gundy has not been happy with the inconsistency he has seen in that department — especially on the defensive end. He once again expressed that concern after the game in commenting on how things looked so good in the first quarter only to fall flat in the second.
The Wizards were able to make their comeback by running hard after missed shots and getting to the basket against a Magic team suddenly uninterested in doing the little things necessary to win NBA games — like rebounding, getting back and being patient in the offense.
Shots were not falling (the Magic ended up shooting 45.3 percent for the game after spending a good part of the first half near and above 50 percent). For worse, the team’s energy seems to go with how the team is shooting the ball. That is not the sign of the defensive team and philosophy that Van Gundy has built in the last four years.
In all, though, the Magic’s shots did fall for the most part all night. Orlando made 15 of 36 3-pointers which is better than 40 percent. Ryan Anderson had four of those 3-points to get to 23 points. He also did some nice work on the glass to grab 15 rebounds, five of them coming on the offensive end.
If there was one good thing, the Magic did a very nice job on the boards except for a flat-footed stretch in the second quarter when the Wizards were collecting rebounds and outworking the Magic. Dwight Howard had 12 rebounds of his own to go with five confidence-shattering blocks. It made up for a poor offensive effort where he committed four turnovers, made four of nine shots and scored only 12 points. The Wizards did a very nice job poking at the ball when he brought it low and holding their ground. Credit should go to Randy Wittman’s game plan and Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee for executing it.
In the end, the Magic found the energy they needed. J.J. Redick and Glen Davis both scored in double figures off the bench, provided a much-needed spark throughout the game. Redick had some clutch 3-pointers of his own early in the fourth quarter to stave off Wizards rallies and maintain some semblance of control over the game.
That control always seems fleeting though.
Orlando had not been able to find the consistency to close out these types of games. You just never know what kind of team you are going to get.
Will it be the motivated and focused world beaters who can topple any team in the league? Or the lackadaisical team that displays the flaws in the roster?
The second half of the season showed all the faces for the Magic. The second half of the season will tell us what team we have in Orlando.