Denton: Magic Effective When Playing at Faster Pace

By John Denton
Jan. 25, 2014

NEW ORLEANS – Victor Oladipo took an outlet pass from Arron Afflalo and the two Orlando Magic backcourt mates furiously pushed the basketball up the court right at Los Angeles Lakers guard Kendall Marshall.

Unbeknownst to seemingly everyone except Oladipo, trailing power forward Tobias Harris got himself into the play by blowing past a trotting Jordan Hill and ran at a full sprint.

As he purposefully looked right at Afflalo to draw the defender over, Oladipo shoveled the ball between his legs to the left to a streaking Harris for a dunk that was equal parts jaw-dropping and crowd-pleasing.

``If Tobias didn’t catch that pass I probably would have been sitting right next to coach,’’ Oladipo said with a chuckle after Orlando’s 114-105 whipping of the Lakers. (Head coach Jacque Vaughn) would have been in my ear about, `Make the easy play! Make the easy play!’ I just saw Tobias out of the corner of my eye and he was running hard. I could have shot a layup but I tried to give it to (Harris) because he had a great game. Give it to the guy who is hot.’’

Not only did the dazzling play come in at No. 5 on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 plays of the night, but it also illustrated the way that the Magic want to play in the coming days and weeks of this season and even in the long-range future. With a roster full of athletic and dynamic young players such as Oladipo, Harris, Afflalo, Maurice Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn, the Magic want to become more of a team that puts fear into others with its running game.

The potential certainly is there what with Oladipo growing leaps and bounds on a nightly basis as a playmaking point guard, Harris’ and Afflalo’s abilities to finish around the rim and Harkless and O’Quinn’s knack for tearing up the floor while leading the second unit. There’s also veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, who is still the team’s best lob passer and someone who has a knack for hitting 3-pointers in transition.

``I think at the end of the day, that’s how we want to play,’’ said Vaughn, whose Magic (12-32) begin a three-game roadtrip in New Orleans (17-25) on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. ``We’ll eventually get to that level of (fastbreak) basketball consistently, but it all starts – like I always talk about – with defensive stops. Having multiple ball-handlers on the floor has been good for us. And the second unit has been getting stops and pushing the ball and that’s been really good for us.’’

Vaughn’s recent decision to start a three-guard lineup with Nelson, Afflalo and Oladipo has helped the Magic pick up the pace of late. Harris, who had 28 points and a career-best, 20 rebounds, undoubtedly run the break harder than any player on the Magic. And E’Twaun Moore, Doron Lamb, O’Quinn and Harkless have helped spark a second unit that of late has been impressive at getting stops and running the ball back at foes.

``With the current makeup of our team it would best suit our team to run more,’’ Afflalo said. ``We’ve got young, athletic players. When you’re young and athletic the advantage is to grab a rebound and bust out and get transition baskets. Trying to rely on our half-court offense with our size at the moment could be tough, so it would be better for us to run.’’

Orlando ran its way to 17 fastbreak points on Friday in its thumping of the woeful Lakers. The running is part of a trend for the Magic as they have run for 17, 16 and 14 fastbreak points in the past three games. If they can keep that up, the Magic should be able to improve upon a No. 20 ranking in the NBA in fastbreak points per game (11.6). The addition of Oladipo has helped the Magic make a jump from 9.9 fastbreak points last season on average. Largely because their defense has been better at the Amway Center, the Magic are averaging 13.5 fastbreak points a game at home this season compared to just 9.6 fastbreak points a game on the road.

Phoenix (19.2 fastbreak points per game) leads the NBA, while Detroit (17.5), Philadelphia (17), L.A. Clippers (16.5) and Houston (16.4) also have great success in the running game. It’s the hope of the Magic that they can eventually get into that rarified air of running teams.

``We have a bunch young guys with young legs and no matter how tired that we are, we’re just out there pushing one another and bringing a consistent effort,’’ Harris said. ``Mo is aggressive, Kyle gives us all and Vic is always doing something special out on the floor, so it’s a good combination and a good spark for us.’’

The Magic are still without standout center Nikola Vucevic (concussion), something that damages their half-court offense and necessitates more of an up-tempo pace. The running game starts, of course, with getting defensive stops so that players can outlet the ball and fill the lanes on the break. As Vaughn is always quick to point out, teams have a difficult time running the fastbreak when they must grab the ball out of the net first.

``We’re still learning to play with each other. But I think an advantage of scoring before the defense is set, that’s just good basketball,’’ Vaughn said. ``Even if you don’t score (on the fastbreak) at least you are getting into your offense at an earlier stage of the shot clock. That’s the second part of it. We just need that time to execute properly.’’

Harris said he prefers a style where the Magic are getting out and running and getting easy baskets and dunks rather than having to grind out points against set defenses. He feels that the Magic have the kind of speed and athleticism that, in time, they can be one of the better running teams in the NBA. And maybe, just maybe, the Magic can enjoy more feel-good moments like Oladipo’s between-the-legs pass that resulted in an exhilarating dunk.

``I wasn’t expecting that (Oladipo pass), but that’s basketball and it’s all about us playing together, playing the right way and having fun,’’ Harris said. ``When we play the game that way by running the momentum with the crowd, it’s something special for a team. That (Oladipo) play was flashy and it got the crowd going. We just need to play more like that.’’