Sluggish Effort Overshadows Win Over Wolves


Stan Van Gundy has emphasized a few things in the wake of Orlando’s nine-game win streak being snapped. Get off to a good start. Defend with energy. Play hard.

The nine-game win streak may be long gone, but the troubling signs — showing up to play for only a half of basketball and being sluggish defensively, relying on its vast offensive weapons. They were learning that lesson without losing. After two losses, it seemed the Magic’s wounds were being displayed and picked for all to see.

Even a team like Minnesota was able to take advantage.

The Timberwolves shot out to a 15-point lead, outworking the Magic and taking advantage of some very sluggish defense. Luke Ridnour, Darko Milicic, Corey Brewer and Kevin Love just had their way with Orlando throughout the first quarter and most of the first half. But once again, the Magic were able to impose their will in the second half. The team picked up its energy defensively and pushed the ball more to take a 108-99 victory at Target Center on Saturday, snapping a two-game losing streak.

Orlando did not really show up in this one until the third quarter, putting in a sluggish effort in the first half. JJ Redick provided some spark in the second quarter, but it was really disappointing to watch this team (especially this team) get out worked by a 10-30 Minnesota squad. Give the Timberwolves a ton of credit for playing hard. They were pressuring the ball, pushing and prodding Dwight Howard — Milicic especially using his length to challenge Howard — and working for offensive rebounds.

Kevin Love had six rebounds by the end of the first quarter and finished with his 27th consecutive double double with 11 points and 15 rebounds. It was no wonder with Love working hard on the boards, as he usually does, that Minnesota held a 46-37 edge on the glass. Orlando’s 18 turnovers did not help either as Minnesota always found a way to keep Orlando from pulling away once the team gave up the lead to the visitors.

That did not really happen until the third quarter. A much more focused team came out of the locker room and everything tightened up defensively.

The Magic got two turnovers pretty quickly and Jason Richardson had five quick points to bring the Magic back within two after going to the locker room facing a seven-point deficit. Richardson had 21 points on the night and scored a good number of those in the third quarter to kickstart Orlando. The Magic outscored the Timberwolves 60-44 in the second half.

A lot of that energy came from being more active defensively. Orlando forced Minnesota into 14 turnovers of their own including eight in the third quarter alone. Those were pretty big as it allowed the Magic to push the pace a little bit more. That is where Dwight Howard got most of his work done, overcoming foul trouble in the first half for a solid 16 points and nine rebounds.

But really, the credit for getting this team humming offensively goes to the Bench Mobb. JJ Redick scored 21 points, including a big four-point play in the fourth quarter. Gilbert Arenas struggled to shoot and everyone still wants him to attack the basket more, but had seven assists to go with seven points. And Ryan Anderson scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, providing solid defense against Kevin Love and doing a good job keeping him off the glass in the second half.

Anderson, to me, had the most impressive game. He was physical and strong with Love, while making him uncomfortable offensively with his 3-point shooting ability. Anderson made only three of his eight 3-pointers, but they all came at big times. He heated up in the second quarter to get Orlando back in the game and keep the team within striking distance.

Stan Van Gundy offered no words of disappointment after the game, which was a little unexpected. The team did not put forth a great effort in the first half and got away with it again. That is something you can do against Minnesota. Not against Boston on Monday.

This team is still learning some basic principles of Stan Van Gundy’s defense and is struggling to execute it. Van Gundy said that is the main problem. Sometimes you execute what you want to do and sometimes you do not.

Orlando needs to play with energy and effort more consistently, that is for sure.