Kim Klement/USA TODAY
When you listen to Jacque Vaughn or Rob Hennigan talk about this Magic team, inevitably the phrases “hard work,” “tough,” “resilient” and “defensive-minded” will come up. Not all of these character traits have attached to the team quite yet as it goes through this long haul of a rebuild. Glimpses and flashes will present themselves during the course of a game.
And then sometimes you get a big burst.
Friday, the Magic’s home opener, was one of those big bursts. A veritable spasm of what this team could become and one day will be.
There was the team operating in the open court, transitioning off turnovers and and moving the ball quickly around the perimeter and inside out. There was the team attacking the basket to create offense for themselves and for others, ending with a trip to the foul line, a made basket or an open 3-pointer. There was the team defense forcing turnovers and suffocating a team into an abysmal shooting percentage. There was the team fighting back to cover up a flaw in the gameplan and never backing down.
To say the Pelicans were out of this game a short way into the second quarter would be complete fact. New Orleans never challenged Orlando and never made a run until there was too little time for the team to come back in any serious matter. The Magic led by as much as 30 points, winning their home opener 110-90 at Amway Center on Friday.
“Tonight just shows, New Orleans is a good team, we came out and played the way we wanted to,” Maurice Harkless said. “We played well defensively and that really got us out to a big lead. We just got to be able to put games like this together on a nightly basis.”
There certainly was no hangover from a disappointing overtime loss to Minnesota on Wednesday. Orlando bounced back in a big way shooting 55.7 percent from the floor, making 11 of 22 3-point attempts, 21 of 27 free throw attempts (just one fewer free throw attempt than the previous two games combined) and 22 assists on the team’s 39 field goal makes.
Arron Afflalo continues his scoring binge with 30 points on 10-for-14 shooting and 4-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc. He made shots off great ball reversal and off his own post ups. Harkless bounced back from his struggles with 20 points to go with eight rebounds and four steals.
It was the effort on the defensive end which turned the game for the Magic. The Pelicans shot 34.8 percent from the floor and were buried and prevented from making a run. Even though Anthony Davis collected eight offensive rebounds and the Pelicans collected 17 as a team, they scored just 13 second chance points and 36 points in the paint on 18-for-53 shooting.
Even though the Magic were making this mistake and giving the Pelicans extra opportunities, the defense scrambled, adjusted and eventually made the stops necessary to secure the lead and a significant margin.
“At the beginning of the game, definitely in the first half, there were probably four or five opportunities where we had good stops defensively,” Jacque Vaughn said. “Our initial thrust was pretty good and then offensive rebounds allowed them to get three or four put backs. We talked about it at halftime about guards helping, and the guards did a really good job of just putting their bodies on their bigs in the second half and giving our big guys some help.”
The Magic gave up only seven offensive rebounds in the second half and still allowed only five second chance points to the Pelicans. The Magic did a much better job locking down on the boards and forcing turnovers. Afflalo said a focus for the team defensively is for the guards to help with the rebounding and try to finish possessions defensively to try to start fast breaks and get easier buckets.
What was most important for the growth of the team was how Orlando prevented New Orleans from making that trademark run every team is bound to make. New Orleans got no closer than 18. And that was late in the fourth quarter.
The Magic followed a 30-point quarter with another 30-point quarter and cruised to victory, allowing the Magic fans to revel in the team’s gorgeous execution and highlight plays — whether that was an Afflalo corner 3-pointer or Andrew Nicholson soaring (yes, soaring) for a dunk off a Kyle O’Quinn no-look pass.
Everyone was involved.
“I was just telling Jameer, Nik and Andrew and Moe, these guys have gotten so much better, it makes the game so much easier for me,” said Afflalo, who has scored 58 points in the last two games while shooting 21 for 36. “This season, in particular. I think that will be something that helps me throughout the season.
“We’ve got a year of experience under our belt. Last year, up until the trade deadline and the back portion of last year, it was Jameer and me running around a little bit with some experience, and those guys were growing. Then they grew a lot toward the end of the season. I think their expectation to win every night is definitely rising. They responded well, all of them tonight.”
Not every game will be this easy. Maurice Harkless was among the many to note that sometimes teams just miss shots and the other team makes them. There was a bit of that going on tonight for sure. Orlando still took advantage of the opportunity in front of them.
That does not quite describe it. The Magic attacked the opportunity and never let up. They fed off the energy from the crowd and from the hunger left over from Minnesota and had a frenzy at New Orleans’ expense.
“Without a doubt, it was a great overall team effort,” Vaughn said. “Just really committed to the gameplan, focused on responsibilities and sharing the basketball and playing for and with each other. It was a great response after a tough loss on the road.”