Skeleton crew closes season in Memphis


The game started about as you would expect for a game that the Magic were playing without Dwight Howard, without Jameer Nelson, without Jason Richardson, without Ryan Anderson, without Glen Davis and without J.J. Redick. This was not a fair representation of the Magic. And nine first-quarter points seemed to show that this team was playing extremely undermanned and well behind the 8-ball.

It was not that the Magic needed this game, having wrapped up the sixth seed in the East the previous night against the Bobcats. That is why the Magic’s five starters sat out this game. There was no reason to see the team risk even more injury or wear and tear before what looks to be a physical and daunting task in the Playoffs.

This game was about… just getting this season done.

Hedo Turkoglu returned to the lineup and had his shot going. Young players like Justin Harper, Von Wafer and Earl Clark got their chance to shine.

If you were looking for a win though, you were barking up the wrong tree. Not even Stan Van Gundy seemed to be doing that with the eight guys he elected to play for this game. Memphis put on a defensive clinic with a ton of pressure and a ton of forced turnovers in the first quarter. It lead to a 27-9 lead right out of the gate. Orlando was playing catchup and cut the 27-point lead down to seven at one point in the third quarter.

The Grizzliers were not really threatened in an 88-76 win Thursday at FedExForum.

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But, again, this game was not going to be about the final score. This was hardly the Magic team that was going to defeat a motivated Grizzlies team. This game was about giving guys an opportunity to play and checking on Hedo Turkoglu‘s status.

Turkoglu shook off some rust, especially off the dribble as he rarely attacked hte basket and when he did turned it over or look to take a jumper. But Turkoglu’s jumper looked like it had not missed a step… or was locked in from 2008.

Turkoglu scored 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting. He was fluid and had the freedom to take the shots he was comfortable with. It is safe to say, a Turkoglu like the one Orlando saw tonight will be a big held for the Playoffs offensively. This was the biggest development for the Magic on this evening. Turkoglu was key to the comeback in the third quarter when Memphis began losing some of its focus and playing around like it was up 20-plus points.

Kudos to the Magic and their young crew for fighting back after that disastrous first quarter and taking advantage of a lackadaisical Grizzlies effort early in the third quarter. Memphis found enough focus though to hold Orlando off.

A lot of guys got opportunities they do not normally get and took advantage.

Justin Harper did a lot of nice things in scoring 16 points. He was fearless with his shot, even as he bricked many of them. He went after the glass hard and did a good job considering he was playing out of position most of the night. For the first time, Harper did not look lost on the floor. He looked comfortable. and his ability to stretch the floor continues to provide some promise.

DeAndre Liggins was a pesky defender and brought some energy. Again, the opportunity was one that Liggins did not pass up.

Daniel Orton did his thing too. Playing the role of young Dwight Howard and limiting his offensive game to dunks and put backs while trying to play better defense. He and Earl Clark did a nice job protecting the basket for stretches, even if they had some of the faults of youth — like stopping after the first play and not following shots for rebounds. Orton and Chris Duhon even showed some nice chemistry running the pick and roll.

Ultimately, the Grizzlies were just a better team than this rag-tag crew. Orlando had nobody to stand up to Marc Gasol, who seemingly made a big difference every time he came in the second half. Rudy Gay was also superb, making some very big and difficult shots throughout the night.

OK, Memphis was the better team. This is not the Orlando team we will see in the Playoffs.

But the Magic got what they wanted out of this game. They saw a Turkoglu ready to play this weekend and they got a lot of guys rest. Now they just need those 16 wins…