Cohen: Magic-Rockets Postgame Analysis
By Josh Cohen
January 22, 2011
If there was such a thing as a perfect team performance – which according to just about any coach in any sport at any level is practically unattainable – Saturday’s contest against the Rockets would best illustrate one.
It was so imposing that the entire team should probably watch the videotape from this game each night before they go to bed.
Outstanding in nearly every statistical category and proficient in its overall execution, Orlando dominated from essentially the opening tip to the final buzzer in a 118-104 victory in Houston.
Not only did the Magic shoot well from the field – an attribute they have proven to be exceptional at since overhauling their roster in late December – but also they defended with desire and a purpose.
In contrast to Orlando’s thrashing of Toronto on Friday when Dwight Howard almost single-handedly catapulted his team with a third-quarter demolition, in Houston it was more of a balanced attack throughout.
Like it was recently when the Magic matched a franchise high with nine straight wins, seven players scored in double figures, including Howard (22 points and 14 rebounds), Hedo Turkoglu (season-high 21 points), Brandon Bass (18), Jason Richardson (18), J.J. Redick (13), Ryan Anderson (12) and Jameer Nelson (10).
Turkoglu, Nelson and Gilbert Arenas also combined to dish out 19 assists.
"Our ball movement was really good," Stan Van Gundy said. "I thought it was a good all-around performance."
It was also imperative for Orlando to deliver a convincing performance on the road. During their recent four-game road trip, the Magic stumbled in three of those contests.
While the Rockets are not currently a playoff team and aren’t the kind of competition the Magic will have to contend with in the later rounds of the postseason, road wins tend to give teams more confidence and a greater sense of concord.
Especially if Orlando does not climb all the way up in the standings (currently fourth in the East), it will be vital for the Magic to have assurance and poise about prevailing away from home (ex. winning a big game in Boston or Miami).
It was also fitting that Hall of Famer and former NBA champion Hakeem Olajuwon was sitting courtside during Saturday’s action. For a few days over this past summer, Howard worked exclusively with the legendary center to enhance his overall game.
With Superman reaching new heights this season – particularly with his improved offensive repertoire – it was pleasant to see D12 showcase his revamped skills in front of Hakeem. At one point after he connected on a 15-foot bank shot, Howard looked over to The Dream and smiled.
Check out my top three storylines from Saturday:
1) UNSELFISHNESS LEADING TO SUCCESS
Unlike most teams that expect just one player to be the primary playmaker and distributor, the Orlando Magic have three legitimate guys who seem to relish in creating shots for others.
NBA observers and critics will always rave – and deservedly so – about the elite point guards who focus their attention on reaching double-digit assist totals each night. Any time All-Stars like Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash or Rajon Rondo dish out an exorbitant number of assists, they earn the appropriate recognition.
On the Magic, on the other hand, assists are amassed collectively – specifically from Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas. While it is rare for any individual on Orlando to eclipse double-digit assist totals, it’s very common for it to surpass 20 team assists each night.
Since President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith completed two blockbuster trades last month, the most glaring improvement has been Orlando’s passing.
It showed very vividly on Saturday when the Magic dished out 26 assists, including nine from Nelson, five from Turkoglu and five from Arenas.
One of the keys to ultimately capturing the NBA championship is selflessness, and thus far since the team’s overhaul, the Magic have shown to be very unselfish.
2) VAN GUNDY GETS MOST OUT OF HIS PLAYERS
Orlando Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy deserves praise for his persistent hard work to get his team prepared night after night. He also warrants admiration for his ability to get the most out of his players.
If you look around the league and examine current and former Magic players, it’s noteworthy that many of these competitors enjoy (or enjoyed) the most success while playing under Van Gundy.
Hedo Turkoglu’s re-transformation has already been well documented after a year and a half of frustration and turmoil in Toronto and Phoenix. He has been one of the catalysts to a reinvigorated Magic team since last month’s two blockbuster trades.
But Turk isn’t the only one. Courtney Lee, who was one of the best surprises during his rookie season in Orlando, hasn’t really carried the same potential over since being traded in 2009.
While he did enjoy a very good fourth quarter against his old team on Saturday (finished with 13 points), Lee has generally been relegated to a reserve role behind scoring sensation Kevin Martin.
Last year in New Jersey, the former Western Kentucky standout did not fit in well and, as a result, was dealt to Houston in a four-team trade last summer.
Another player who starred for the Magic and became a fan favorite in central Florida, Mickael Pietrus, has not adjusted well since being traded to the Suns last month. Air France, as he is affectionately nicknamed, has shot 13-of-44 from the field in his last seven appearances.
3) MORE PRAISE FOR MAGIC'S POWER FORWARDS
It feels like an eternity ago when Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson were starving for playing time while serving as the backups to Rashard Lewis.
Last season, in fact, both Bass and Anderson barely played down the stretch of the season and in the playoffs. Many started to wonder if either of them would be traded at some point and if their obvious talents would go to waste.
But, instead of feeling unwanted, the two power forwards stayed focused and confident and have elevated their games to extraordinary levels.
Since Lewis was traded to Washington last month, both have become essential pieces to a team with championship aspirations.
Just like they have shown over the past few weeks, Bass and Anderson each delivered quality performances on Saturday against the Rockets.
Bass, for one, posted 18 points and seven rebounds and like he did on Friday when he shut down Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani played tenacious defense against Luis Scola. Anderson, similarly, recorded 12 points – his ninth consecutive game scoring in double figures -- and six rebounds.
Immediately after the trades occurred, critics suggested that the biggest problem would be lack of size if Dwight Howard gets into foul trouble. Well, although it remains possible that Otis Smith will attempt to add more size on the interior before the trading deadline, Bass and Anderson have done a terrific job down low as D12’s backups.
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