Denton: Magic-Hornets Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
February 11, 2011


ORLANDO – Another troubling loss by the Orlando Magic on Friday night left head coach Stan Van Gundy questioning his strategies, Dwight Howard wondering what has happened to the team’s closing abilities and Gilbert Arenas clueless as to why the re-tooled squad’s chemistry is still so disjointed.

Orlando’s 99-93 loss to the scrappy New Orleans Hornets, one in which the Magic struggled to get stops all night and decent possessions down the stretch because of turnovers, left some on the team wondering about the direction of a team whose confidence is clearly shaken.

The Magic (34-21) have now lost eight consecutive games against teams with winning records and they are a very mediocre 9-9 over the last 18 games. And the bad news is that the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers are up next on Sunday at the Amway Center.

``Right now, if you just look at the results, the bottom line is that we can’t beat a good team,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We haven’t been able to play at the level that we need to play, to play (winning) teams like that. It’s going to have to change. We get another chance on Sunday, but we haven’t been able to raise our game to that level. We don’t play hard enough or well enough, bottom line.’’

Another bottom line staring at the Magic today is the fact that franchise center Dwight Howard got just three shot attempts in the second half. His two second-half baskets came off a putback of his own miss and a dunk in transition. Howard finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds, but only four points and eight rebounds came after the intermission.

Van Gundy took the blame for Howard’s inactivity, saying: ``I didn’t get Dwight the ball enough. The free throw shooting scared me off a little bit to be honest, but that’s not a good enough excuse. Especially the way our perimeter guys were playing in the fourth quarter, that ball should have been going in to him and that’s my fault.’’

Howard, one of the Magic’s captains, refused to point fingers and stressed that the Magic have to keep the faith now instead of splintering. ``It’s over now and we need to just focus on doing a better job,’’ Howard said. ``There’s no need for Stan to be on suicide watch.’’

Willie Green torched the Magic for 24 points, while David West pounded the inside with 17 points and 17 rebounds. Chris Paul was contained for the most part 15 points and seven assists for the Hornets (33-22), who were without starting center Emeka Okafor.

``We need to play more consistent in terms of our execution, our energy and our effort,’’ said Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, who made just three of 11 shots and had seven points and five rebounds. ``Toward the end of the game, we didn’t execute at all.’’

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from Friday night’s ugly loss at Amway Center:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Howard smashed the likes Aaron Gray, DJ Mbenga and David Andersen, making six of nine shots and scoring 16 points to go with his nine rebounds in the first half. But remarkably the Magic stopped throwing the ball inside to their big men even though the Hornets clearly had no answer at even remotely slowing him down.

    Howard tried deflecting the talk away from him not getting the ball, saying: ``I don’t think that’s the reason why we lost the game. There are a lot of things that we could have done better that we didn’t do to win the game. We didn’t take care of the ball well in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch we made mistakes and we didn’t capitalize on our defense late in the game. So there are a lot of things that we didn’t do right to win the game.’’

    Arenas, who had 11 points in almost 19 minutes, said the Magic didn’t feed the ball into their big man nearly enough.

    ``There were some easy passes that we could have made,’’ Arenas said. ``I know when I was in (Van Gundy) was telling me to go and keep attacking the basket and (Howard) will get it off the glass. Other than that, we just couldn’t find the shots that we needed.’’

  • WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Yet again, the Magic couldn’t get much production from their perimeter players to keep the defense from swarming inside on Howard. Orlando made just five of 21 3-pointers, missing both open and contested looks.

    Turkoglu made seven of 10 shots and had 14 points, but he had a bad turnover with 22 seconds left when the Magic were within three points of the lead. Jason Richardson (three of nine), Ryan Anderson (two of eight) and Nelson (three of 11) had dismal shooting nights.

    ``We couldn’t stop their guys on the perimeter and we got so badly outplayed on the perimeter,’’ Van Gundy said. ``All we did down the stretch was turn the ball over. We didn’t deserve to win because we don’t play at a level good enough to win.’’

  • The first half was a mess on both end of the court for the Magic. Not only did they turn the ball over nine times and get very little production from anyone other than J.J. Redick or Howard, they yielded 61 points to the Hornets in the first 24 minutes.

    Six New Orleans’ players had at least six points in the first half as the Magic struggled to get stops. Not only did Paul gash the Magic for 12 points, but he also set up several others with five assists. And lightly regarded guards Jarrett Jack and Green both scored 13 first-half points and made the Magic pay for having to double-team power forward West on the post.

  • FINAL OBSERVATIONS

  • New Orleans coach and former Magic player Monty Williams, a leading candidate to win the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, made the decision to intentionally foul Howard three times in the first half. He employed the strategy even though Howard actually came into the game on a hot streak from the free throw line, making 30 of 43 in the previous three games.

    But Williams kept going to the tactic when Howard struggled from the free throw line. He missed his first five tries and made only four of 10 free throws in the first half.

    ``Maybe putting Dwight on the line a bit in the first half may have messed him up some,’’ Williams said of Howard, who made just four of 12 free throws for the game.``

  • The NBA’s replay review system got another one right midway through the second quarter. Paul drilled a jumper midway through the first quarter as the shot clock expired and veteran referee David Jones immediately motioned to the scorer’s table to have a replay ready at the next stoppage in play.

    Sure enough, the referees reviewed the play and determined that the shot left Paul’s hands after the shot clock had expired. The Hornets lost the two points, dropping them from 19 to 17 points at the time.

    Replays also confirmed a call with 31 seconds to play that a ball went out of bounds on the Hornets, giving the Magic possession.

    Kudos to the NBA for continuing to expand the replay rules to give the referees a better chance of looking at slow-motion replays to get the call right.

  • Filling in for the injured Brandon Bass, Earl Clark continued to impress with his ability to score points in bunches. He tied a career high with 14 points in 25 minutes by hitting five of nine shots and four of five free throws.

    He did have an assist as well, giving him four on the season now.

  • John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.