Denton: Wall Will Be Tough Cover Tonight

By John Denton
March 14, 2014

ORLANDO – Already, there have been 45 40-point games this season by NBA players. Twice, a player has scored 60 and two other times players have hit 50 points.

All of those, of course, have come from wing players. Power forward Kevin Love is the lone exception, position-wise, but even he spends a majority of his time shooting from the perimeter or driving hard to the rim.

The proliferation of high scoring nights by guards and small forwards can be traced back to the NBA rules that make hand-checking an impeding the progress of ball-handlers illegal. Clearly, it’s a different game than it used to the in the 1990s when defense could at least be physical with foes and make them work even harder to get to the rim. Now, defenders are hardly allowed to even touch a player intent on driving to the rim.

``It’s a different ball game that we’re playing now,’’ said Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn, who spent 12 years in the NBA as a point guard before becoming a ooach.

Orlando (19-47) faces one of the fastest and most athletically gifted guards in the league tonight in John Wall. The first-time all-star is having the best season of his NBA career, averaging 19.6 points and 8.7 assists a game for the vastly improved Wizards (33-31).

Wall has given the Magic fits this season with his speed on the fastbreak and his ability to break down defenders in one-on-one sets and get to the rim. He had 27 points and seven assists three weeks ago in a Wizards defeat of the Magic. And he picked apart Orlando for 16 points and 13 assists back in a December defeat of the Magic.

``I’d say Wall, (Russell) Westbrook, Ty (Lawson) and (Jeff) Teague are the fastest and quickest guards in the league,’’ Magic rookie guard Victor Oladipo said.

Orlando has had its struggles defensively of late. In the 12 games since the NBA All-Star Game, Orlando has yielded at least 100 points 10 times. For the season, the Magic are 5-35 when giving up at least 100 points and 0-31 when getting outrebounded.

Wednesday night was a struggle on defense as well. Orlando failed to take away much of anything against Denver, allowing 120 points, 51.1 percent shooting, 54 points in the paint, 10 3-pointers and 24 free throw attempts (with 16 makes).

Arron Afflalo, one of Orlando’s best wing defenders, said that because of the changes in the defensive rules it’s almost impossible to defend players with the ball on the perimeter.

``The body contact is out and obviously the hand-checking is out because they have completely got rid of impeding the progress of a guy,’’ Afflalo said. ``Even being physical without using your hands is tough because guys are really creative in making it appear as if they are fouled. It’s tough to play defense, but I guess it makes for a more entertaining, free-flowing game. But it does make defense tough at times.’’

The Magic have had trouble with the likes of Tony Parker, James Harden Brandon Knight and Ty Lawson trying to keep them from getting to the rim and the free throw line. Vaughn said the Magic need to use the rules to their advantage and attack defenses themselves with Jameer Nelson, Oladipo and Afflalo.

``We have to be smart in how we approach the game offensively,’’ Vaughn said. ``Sometimes against us guys are just putting their head down and driving the basketball to the rim and putting the pressure on referees to make calls. The defender has to be disciplined enough to not foul.

``When we talk about penetrating, it’s Ramon Sessions, Brandon Knight and Parker putting his head down and getting to the lane,’’ Vaughn added. ``You deal with that on a nightly basis. That’s where our (good) habits have to creep in and determine how you are going to play defense on a guy over and over again. If you are up 10 or down 10, you stay with your principles and habits.’’