Shots, Defense Running on Empty in Memphis


Ryan Anderson stood alone in the corner. Just as Hedo Turkoglu would stand alone at the wing a few possessions later. Gilbert Arenas had done his job the entire fourth quarter, awakening a sleeping Magic team into life and getting them back into a game they probably had no business being in. He pushed the pace and forced the action in the paint for the first time all game.

Orlando needed shots to fall. The Magic are a team built on 3-point shooting and when open 3-pointers are not falling, things are going to be difficult.

Anderson’s 3-pointer missed the entire rim and fell on the far side of the hoop. An air ball. Turkoglu’s open three fell short off the rim. The Magic, down one at the time, had another chance when Anderson grabbed the offensive rebound. Mike Conley, Jr. though capped off perhaps the best game of his career, taking the ball right out of Anderson’s hands.

A night of frustration seemed to burst from there as Dwight Howard picked up a technical foul at the worst time. The Grizzlies missed one of the three free throws to give the Magic some life. But even then it was pretty bleak. Jason Richardson, fighting off attempts to foul him with five seconds left, heaved a 30-foot 3-pointer that missed off the right backboard.

Memphis 100, Orlando 97. And more questions than answers about this new-look Magic team. A nine-game winning streak is far behind this team in its rear-view mirror. And some basic tenants of Orlando’s game — defense, impassioned effort, patience on offense —  are not sinking in.

The Magic have shown flashes for sure. Orlando opened up the game on a tear offensively and active defensively. The Magic got out on the break and created easy scoring opportunities, especially for Dwight Howard. Howard was incredibly active early in the game, changing shots at the rim, getting deep post position and scoring at will. it seemed like he was in for a big night.

What happened to that effort in the second and third quarters? That is likely to keep Stan Van Gundy up at night — at least until Thursday’s game against Miami.

Memphis outscored Orlando 65-46 in the middle two quarters. The offense does not seem so bad, but the Magic’s defense was abysmal. The Grizzlies were hitting shots — especially Darrell Arthur (14 points, 5/8 FG) and Sam Young (10 points, 5/9 FG) — they do not normally make. But the Magic’s defense was not helping them get stops either. Mike Conley had his first points/rebounds double double of his career in scoring 26 points and 11 assists and easily cut through the lane in those middle two quarters.

Orlando did not do much to help itself. The team settled for 3-pointers for much of that time and struggled to solve Memphis’ 2-3 zone defense.

The Magic shot 8 for 32 from long range, 25 percent. That included plenty of good looks that just did not fall (a continuing theme lately), but it also included quick shots early in the shot clock. Those are the shots Orlando needs to quickly eliminate.

Howard had his struggles too. It was not just those around him. He needed their support to do more with his 25-point, 14-rebound effort. But Memphis did a great job mixing coverages against him. The Grizzlies forced him into seven turnovers and did a good job frustrating him throughout the night. Howard was visibly frustrated all game, picking up a few silly fouls in the third quarter and that tell-tale technical foul late in the fourth quarter.

He composed himself enough to join Gilbert Arenas in a run to get the Magic back in the game.

And that is perhaps the most puzzling thing to come out of this game. Orlando was clearly good enough to win this game if the team had just focused on the details and remained patient throughout this game.

Arenas had just 10 points, but scored seven in the fourth quarter and dished out three assists. He played the entire fourth quarter because he was simply willing to push the pace and force some action on offense. He was surprisingly effective and gave some hope that he might be about to turn the corner with this team.

But that is all this seemed to be a mirage. Enough to tantalize Magic fans into believing Orlando can return to its status of being a contender by Playoff time this season. But Van Gundy’s assessment that this team is not at that level is absolutely correct.

The Magic have only themselves to blame. With a better effort, they definitely could have won this game — missed shots or not.