Denton: Magic-Kings Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
February 23, 2011


ORLANDO – Dwight Howard trudged through an almost empty Orlando Magic locker room late Wednesday night looking solemn and seeking something to fill a silence in the air that was downright deafening.

After flipping through a computer keypad, Howard cranked up a song – ``Hustle Hard’’ by Ace Hood, Lil’ Wayne and Rick Ross – that was very telling on arguably the Magic’s most frustrating night of the regular season.

``That’s not even the part that guys need to hear,’’ Howard said, referring to another blaring lyric in the rap song about the same old things happening on a different day.

Howard had reason to fume Wednesday night after his Magic returned from the break following the NBA All-Star Game and failed in their attempt to accomplish much that it spent the past three days talking about. Facing a 13-win Sacramento Kings team that had been blown out a night earlier in Miami and was without standout point guard Tyreke Evans, the Magic got very few of the defensive stops they were seeking, crumbled offensively and ultimately suffered one of their worst losses of the season in a 111-105 defeat.

Afterward, Howard – who had 31 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots – took his Magic (36-22) to task for its effort and willingness to fight defensively.

``We’ve been talking for a long time. That’s all we seem to do is talk,’’ Howard said. ``It’s very frustrating and if guys don’t want to play then they need to sit down. We just can’t have guys or anybody out there and not playing hard. We’re professional athletes and this is what we do for a living. If we can’t get out there and go hard for two hours, then you shouldn’t be playing.’’

Orlando allowed the Kings (14-41) to shoot 52.5 percent from the field, win the rebounding battle 42-36 and close the game like they were the ones in the middle of a playoff chase. In the fourth quarter alone – one in which Sacramento outscored Orlando 32-21 – the Kings shot 64 percent, while the Magic made only 26.3 percent and turned the ball over four times. In all, Orlando had 17 turnovers.

``We didn’t defend, we didn’t play well offensively, we didn’t rebound and we didn’t take care of the ball,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy muttered. ``I don’t know how much more complete you can be in playing poorly.’’

The Magic came into the game seeking marked defensive improvement and an increased sense of urgency down the stretch of the regular season, but this was a nightmarish game nearly from start to finish. The Kings, who entered 27th in the league in field goal percentage, scored at will throughout, especially down the stretch.

``We didn’t play hard and it’s as simple as that,’’ Howard said. ``Even if you mess up and miss a million shots, if you are playing hard all of that stuff will equal out. But if you are out there (coasting) around, then you’re not going to get anything done. We can’t play like that if we want to be a championship team.’’

Here is a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from Wednesday night’s frustrating loss:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Howard kept the Magic afloat all night with his seventh 30-point, 15-rebound game of the season. He’s bettered 30 points in 11 games, and that was a recipe for success for Orlando before the All-Star break in victories against the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington.

    But other than Hedo Turkoglu’s 19-point, eight-assist effort, Howard never got enough support from his teammates on this night.

    ``I’m not happy with anything other than Dwight right now. I’m not happy with anything,’’ Van Gundy huffed. ``Everything that I look at on the stat sheet is just not good. We can count on (Howard) playing well every night and other than that, there’s not much we can count on.’’

  • Point guard Jameer Nelson and shooting guard Jason Richardson pulled off the play of the game in the third quarter.

    Pushing the ball on the fastbreak, Nelson looked up ahead and saw a streaking Richardson going toward the rim. Nelson let loose a lob pass from the backcourt that went perfectly to Richardson. The two-time Slam Dunk Champion flushed the ball back over his head, much to the delight of the sellout crowd inside Amway Center.

  • WHAT WENT WRONG

  • It was difficult to tell on Wednesday night which was worse – Orlando’s offense or its defense?

    The Magic still can’t seem to get more than two players playing well together on one night. Richardson missed eight of 12 shots and all three of his 3-pointers, while Gilbert Arenas was off on eight of 11 tries and all four threes. And the Magic didn’t get much from their two-headed power forward position with Ryan Anderson (3 of 10, nine points) and Brandon Bass (2 of 6, five points) also struggling to get into the flow.

    Even two players who played well – Nelson (15 points) and Turkoglu – combined for eight turnovers.

    ``Obviously there are going to be nights when shots aren’t falling, but when we’re turning it over too we can’t start a run or get anything going,’’ Anderson said. ``We can be a good team, but we need to win some games and get a streak going.’’

  • The Magic’s knack for starting games extremely slowly reared its ugly head again Wednesday night as they trailed by six after the first period and by as many as 11 points at one point in the second period.

    The lowly Kings shredded the Magic defensively early in the game, shooting 60.9 percent in the first quarter with several dunks and layups. And at one point in the first half, Sacramento had hit 18 of 29 shots (62 percent).

    Said Van Gundy: ``We didn’t get any stops and we’re going to have to change it or we’re just not going to be any good.’’

  • FINAL OBSERVATIONS

  • Howard, one of the Magic’s co-captains with Nelson, said he’s tried motivating his team for weeks with pep talks, but little has worked.

    ``I’ve done said everything there is to say. I’ve talked every timeout in the huddle and in the locker room. What, you want me to tweet about it?’’ Howard remarked.

    ``I’ve done did everything that I’m supposed to do as a leader. Everybody on the team has to step up and play hard. I’m not singling anybody out and not calling anybody out, but as a team if we don’t play hard then we are going to lose every night.’’

    Howard wouldn’t address whether or not the Magic need to make personnel changes prior to Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. He said the Magic have the talent to compete for a championship, but aren’t backing up their expectations with actions.

    `` I’m focused on the guys we have here and what we need to do to win. Nothing else matters,’’ Howard said. ``We have a lot of talent, but talent won’t just get you a championship. Hard work and commitment every night is what gets you a championship. We’re one of the most talented teams in the NBA and we’re a deep team with guys who can do a lot of different things. But if you don’t bring it every night, it’s a waste of talent.’’

  • Jermaine Taylor, who grew up in Tavares, Fla., and was a huge Magic fan as a kid, started Wednesday night for the kids in front of several friends and family. And unlike last season as a rookie for the Houston Rockets when he played in garbage time, Taylor was on the floor for significant minutes and played well.

    He made six of his first eight shots and had 13 points by halftime for the Kings. He finished with a career-best 21 points on nine of 12 shooting.

    ``It felt really good, especially getting the minutes and starting,’’ Taylor said. ``I really feel comfortable every time I step on the floor now. I’ve been playing basketball for a long time and every time I’m out there, I feel at home.’’

  • 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.