Denton's Dish: Magic at Thunder (12/25/11)
By John Denton
December 25, 2011
A fast start to the regular-season opener looked to be quite possibly a fast start to the regular season for the Orlando Magic. But an inability to slow down Oklahoma City’s high-powered offense and to get superstar Dwight Howard in the flow spelled doom for the Magic Sunday night.
An early seven-point Magic lead proved to be a mirage when Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant outplayed Howard as the Thunder whipped the Magic 97-89 in the nationally televised opener.
Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer the past two seasons, scored 30 points for the Thunder (1-0), while Howard went long stretches without getting the ball or scoring and finished with just 11 points. The only player in NBA history to win three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards chipped in 15 rebounds and two blocked shots for the Magic.
OKC shot 47 percent from the floor and hit 10 3-pointers, while the Magic connected on just 37 percent of its shots and missed 20 of 28 3-point attempts. Those offensive struggles undermined a fast start which saw the Magic lead 18-11 early in the game. But the Magic struggled the rest of the way and rarely threatened in the second half.
``Offensively, we just weren’t good all night,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said after the game. ``We were pretty good the first 5 minutes, but other than that we just weren’t good, we weren’t sharp and we didn’t execute.’’
Facing old Eastern Conference nemesis Kendrick Perkins, Howard made just four of 12 shots. He had three of the Magic's first seven field goals, but hit just one post move – as he was falling down – over the final three quarters. Before the game, Howard said that his trade request wouldn’t be a distraction.
``As of right now I’m with the Magic. There are no plans for me going anywhere anytime soon,’’ Howard said. ``I’ve talked to each and every one of my teammates and told them that we don’t know what’s going to happen, who’s going to be here or who’s going to leave or whatever. But one thing we can control is how hard we can play every night.’’
Ryan Anderson, who started at power forward ahead of newcomer Glen Davis, pumped in 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He made nine of 17 shots and hit six 3-pointers.
Point guard Jameer Nelson scored 18 points and handed out six assists. Orlando trailed by five at the end of one quarter and by 14 at the half, but did get to within 10 at one point because of run sparked by Nelson.
``We didn’t score on eight or nine straight possessions (after getting within 10 points) and we had two fastbreaks where we had numbered possessions and we didn’t even come up with a decent shot. We had a chance I thought to climb back into the game but we didn’t get it done,’’ Van Gundy said. ``I didn’t like the pace of our offense, we were moving slowly, the ball didn’t move and there were a lot of one-pass-and-shot possessions. I don’t think we screened, moved, broke people down and got great shots.’’
There will be plenty of logistical challenges in this 66-game, lockout-shortened season, and the schedule-makers did the Magic no favors right off the bat. Orlando’s home-opener comes Monday night at 7 p.m. against a Houston Rockets team that had Sunday night off.
Said Van Gundy: ``Hey, that’s the way the schedule is. If you are going to make excuses then you are going to have a rough season. We are going to play 21 games the night after we’ve played before. So forget the excuses and be ready to play.’’
Here’s a closer look at the key moments in Sunday’s season-opener:
- Who could have possibly seen what was to come next after the Magic starting the game hitting on all cylinders?
Orlando made eight of its first nine shots, primarily by getting six points from Anderson and three baskets from Howard. The Magic led 18-11 early on and had momentum surging their way.
But things proceeded to fall apart for the Magic – partly because the Magic were fouling too much. A 7-0 OKC burst, capped by a Durant dunk, tied the game at 18-all. Orlando missed seven consecutive shots during that game-changing run.
And things didn’t get any better as the Magic made just one of their next eight shots, meaning they missed 14 of 15 tries over the final seven minutes of the first period. Three free throws by James Harden put the Thunder up 27-22 after one quarter.
``I thought we started OK, and then we got into fouling and that’s what turned it around. And we were missing free throws and they were making them,’’ Van Gundy said. ``I thought our defense, other than the fouls, wasn’t bad. (Russell) Westbrook and (Thabo) Sefolosha both hit threes, and neither one of them are great 3-point shooters. We did a lot of what we wanted to do early, but we fouled too much at the end (of the first quarter).’’
- The condensed training camp and the shortened preseason will affect players differently, but it seems to have severely affected the shooting stroke for Magic shooting guard Jason Richardson.
The veteran missed the first four workouts of training camp as he and the Magic worked out the details on his four-year contract that allowed him to stay in Orlando. He struggled through the two games against Miami in the preseason and again couldn’t find the mark Sunday night.
Richardson missed nine of his 10 shot attempts and misfired on all four of his 3-point attempts. And he couldn’t contain OKC super sub James Harden, who scored 19 points and made 10 free throws.
- The Magic feel they have one of the deepest teams in the NBA, but their bench was badly outplayed in the first half. OKC held a 25-6 scoring edge by its reserves in the first 24 minutes.
- It’s official: Kendrick Perkins has never committed a foul in his NBA career. Or at least he acts as if he never has. Perkins repeatedly mouthed at officials in the first half when he was whistled for moving screen violations.
Then, in the third quarter, Perkins shoved Howard as the two locked arms under the rim. Perkins shoved Howard and was called for a technical foul.
In fact, two technical fouls were called and neither of them were whistled on Howard, last year’s leader in the NBA. Nazr Mohammed was also called for a technical foul for swatting away Howard’s arm after the whistle in the third quarter.
- The Magic knew they were in big trouble with Durant going against Hedo Turkoglu. And they tried sending help that way most of the night, but the Thunder’s role players made them pay for that strategy.
Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha and Daequan Cook all made two 3-pointers apiece, while point guard Russell Westbrook had 14 points despite seven turnovers. Durant made 11 of 19 shots and could have had an even bigger night had he not missed five free throws.
``They shot the ball very well. I don’t like giving up the 10 threes, but a guy like Sefolosha, who isn’t a very good 3-pointer shooter at least by the numbers, makes a couple and Eric Maynor makes a couple,’’ Van Gundy said. ``They made some of those shots that made it difficult.’’
- The Magic were 21 of 26 from the free throw line, but the only five misses were by Howard, who connected on just three of eight attempts. The rest of the team made all 18 of its attempts, led by J.J. Redick’s eight makes.
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org
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