Denton: Magic Most Effective When Pushing the Pace

By John Denton
Feb. 5, 2014

ORLANDO – All in one game, the Orlando Magic had one of their best halves of basketball and statistically one of their worst on Monday. Still, a very important lesson emerged: They are much better offensively when they push the ball ahead and don’t have to face foes’ set defenses on a regular basis.

That proved to be the case against the towering Indiana Pacers, the NBA leaders in points allowed and field goal percentage allowed. Orlando aggressively pushed the ball right at the Pacers early on, resulting in 22 field goals and an impressive 50 percent field goal percentage in Monday’s first half. That strategy didn’t hold up as Orlando couldn’t get stops in an ugly second half with which to run, and ultimately the Magic fell to the surging Pacers.

But the running revelation could serve the Magic well going forward what with a home game against the Detroit Pistons dead ahead on Wednesday night. The Pistons (19-28) feature the NBA’s biggest frontline in Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith and those big guys make it difficult to get much of anything close to the rim.

So to avoid having to grind out possessions against the Pistons and future foes, Orlando wants to take advantage of the speed provided by rookie point guard Victor Oladipo and the athleticism of wing players Arron Afflalo and Tobias Harris and run their way to more easy baskets.

``We definitely need to continue to do that, pushing the ball and playing at a high tempo,’’ Oladipo said after a career-high-tying 11-assist night against the Pacers on Monday. ``Playing that way helps us a lot because we need easy buckets.’’

The Magic (13-37) were credited with 15 fastbreak points on Monday and that number could have been even higher if not for the seemingly sliding rules for what is a fastbreak basket and what is not. Afflalo and Harris both had 3-pointers in transition before the Pacers could key in on them with ball-hawking wings Paul George and Lance Stephenson and big frontcourt players Roy Hibbert and David West. The willingness to push the pace and having success out of it had Orlando within two points of the powerful Pacers midway through Monday’s third quarter.

``Us as a team, we need to play that way a lot more,’’ said Afflalo, who scored 18 of his 20 points in Monday’s first half. ``With Victor, in particular, he’s at his best when he’s in transition. He did a great job of staying in the passing lanes for some steals. His shot will come, but for now the way he played staying in the passing lanes and pushing the ball offensively, that’s what we need from him.’’

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn knew full well that Indiana came into Monday’s game atop most of the primary defensive categories in the NBA, so he stressed to his team the importance of pushing the basketball and trying to outrun the lumbering Hibbert and West. Vaughn designed a game plan for the Magic to run and worked perfectly most of the night as Orlando got within 60-58 of the Pacers with 7 minutes left in the third. Vaughn said that even in defeat the Magic culled a lesson from Monday that they can run against bigger teams and have success.

``Overall, we want to play faster,’’ he said. ``When we had good opportunities and good looks they came in transition and early attack.’’

Detroit pushed the Heat hard on Monday night before losing 102-96 in Miami. The Pistons used their size to grab a 51-44 rebounding advantage and they forced the Heat into 20 turnovers. Monroe powered his way to 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Drummond muscled out another double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

The Magic have split two games with Detroit so far this season, winning in Orlando in late December and falling in ugly fashion in suburban Detroit last week. Most recently, the Magic gave up 17 offensive boards and got outrebounded 56-40, resulting in a 103-87 loss to the Pistons. They know they can’t play a half-court game against the Pistons again and be successful, so Orlando will likely look to run more this time around. Monday’s loss taught Orlando the need to run, and this time it hopes to keep up the pace over four quarters.

``We were playing at a great pace, we were sharing the ball and playing defense and that’s why we had the game close,’’ Oladipo said. ``That’s something we need to learn from.’’