Denton: Now or Never For Magic

By John Denton
April 25, 2011

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was his usual load and vocal self after Sunday night’s Game 4 to the Atlanta Hawks as he searched for positives to encourage his frustrated basketball team. The gist of message was this: Nothing about the Magic’s plight – other than being in a must-win situation – has changed despite being in a 3-1 hole.

The Magic still hope to protect their homecourt against the Hawks in Tuesday’s Game 5 at Amway Center. If they can force a Game 6 on Thursday, they still have to find a way to win in Atlanta, something that has been a reality since losing Game 1 in Orlando last week. And to do both of those things they still must figure how to get some sort of offensive flow going in a series where points and made shots have been tough to come by.

And, oh yeah, the fourth-seeded Magic have to do it right away come Tuesday night or a season filled with so much promise could be over at the hands of the fifth-seeded Hawks.

``My message was loud, but it wasn’t loud negative. Number one, it was that this series isn’t over,’’ Van Gundy said following the 88-85 defeat. ``We knew we had to win in Atlanta and we have to take care of things at home to give ourselves that opportunity. I talked to them about the mental toughness and the determination to get stops when the game is on the line and they have to overcome the mental part of the shooting. Look, we’re running out of time here and don’t have a couple of more weeks to work our way out of this. Make some shots on Tuesday.’’

The Magic find themselves down in the series and faced with having to win three consecutive games because of their inability to get much of anything going offensively outside of superstar center Dwight Howard. On Sunday, the Magic made just two of 23 3-pointers – the worst 3-point shooting performance in the last 20 playoffs with at least 20 attempts.

That wayward shooting caused the Magic’s shooting percentages – 40.3 percent from the floor and 21.9 percent from the 3-point line – to plummet even further. The Magic have shot 45.3 percent (Game 1), 34.6 percent (Game 2), 42.5 percent (Game 3) and 39.2 percent (Game 4).

``I don’t know what’s going on with our shooting, but I know that we have to shoot with confidence and shoot our shots,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``We’re getting good shots most of the time, so it’s not like we’re forcing things, taking bad shots or being selfish. Balls are going in and out and some are just off, but we have to start making them.’’

Orlando is must-win mode, but the belief inside the Magic locker room is that they can shift the pressure back to Atlanta if they can win on Tuesday. The Hawks would then have to win in Philips Arena on Thursday to avoid a potential Game 7 in Orlando on Saturday.

``There’s no need to be frustrated. We’re in a tough situation, but we just need one win right now. We get one win, we’re going to win the series,’’ Howard said after Monday’s film session and light workout. ``(Wednesday) isn’t the last game. If you don’t believe, then go home. Why would we come in thinking anything else but winning?’’

While the Magic are still bubbling with confidence that they can somehow win three straight games and still win the series, they are faced with some daunting numbers from the first four games versus the Hawks. To wit:

  • Of the 192 minutes played so far in these playoffs, the Magic have led just 42 minutes, three seconds. The rest of the time they have either trailed the Hawks or been tied.
  • Of the 16 quarters played so far, the Magic have had a lead at some point in only seven of those quarters. Even worse, they have led in only three of the eight second-half quarters so far. And twice already – in Games 1 and 4 – the Magic never led in the second half.
  • Of the 96 minutes played in Atlanta in Games 3 and 4, the Magic led a grand total of 2 minutes, 15 seconds. They never led by more than two points at Philips Arena and never longer than 1 minute, three seconds.
  • The Magic have had one double-digit lead in the series – 14 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2 – and they let it shrink to two before pulling away. The Magic led by as many as four points in Game 1, by 14 in Game 2 and by as much as two points in Game 3, but never led in Game 4. Conversely, the Hawks have had a double-digit lead at some point of all four games so far.

``Unfortunately, yeah, it’s one of those things where we’ve gotten used to (playing from behind),’’ Nelson said. ``We’ve been a tough team all year long, fighting battles and fighting through adversity all season. But right now, isn’t the time to fold. It’s time for everybody to step up. We have to be resilient no matter what happens.’’ The poor shooting has tested every shred of that resiliency.

Hedo Turkoglu, who has missed on a potential go-ahead 3-pointer and a tying 3-pointer at the end of the last two games, missed all six of his 3-point shots on Sunday and is shooting 13 percent from afar. Nelson, second on the team in 3-point shooting at 40.1 percent, misfired on his four threes and is stuck at 23.8 percent.

J.J. Redick (39.7 percent in the regular season and 8.3 percent in the playoffs) and Ryan Anderson (39.3 percent in the regular season and 16.7 percent in the playoffs) combined to miss all seven of their 3-point shots. And making matters worse, Orlando was without Jason Richardson – the NBA’s leader in both 3-pointers made and attempted during the regular season -- on Sunday night because of a one-game suspension for fighting with Atlanta’s Zaza Pachulia.

The woes are especially considering that the Magic made 770 3-pointers during the regular season, a figure that was the second most in the NBA and 254 more threes than their opponents. From beyond the stripe, Orlando shot 36.6 percent (10th best in the NBA), while five players on the current roster shot 38 percent or better.

By Van Gundy’s calculations, 44 of the Magic’s 79 shots on Sunday were good shots, and they scored 59 points on those tries. After reviewing the video of the game, he said two of the 3-pointers came at the end of quarters and two were at the end of the shot clock. He said 15 of the other 19 3-point tries were ``good shots,’’ and that eight were taken with no defender around. But for whatever reason the shots just weren’t falling for a Magic team full of elite 3-point shooters.

``They’re all great shooters. If I look at our roster the main reason that most of our guys are in the NBA is because of their shooting,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Jameer, Turk and Gil (Arenas) can run pick-and-rolls, but (Quentin Richardson’s) main offensive skill is that he’s a shooter. J.J’s main offensive skill is that he’s a shooter. Ryan’s main offensive skill is that he’s a shooter. Jason Richardson, who wasn’t here (Sunday) obviously, his main offensive skill is that he’s a shooter. We don’t have guys like Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson who will break you down off the dribble. That’s not our game. At this point in the playoffs, it’s about playing your game at a high level. Shooters have to make shots because that’s their game.’’

Van Gundy said the shooting woes have forced him to introduce some prospective into his talks with the team. Usually a coach who discounts anything that comes from a losing performance, Van Gundy said the Magic’s effort in recent losses give them confidence that they can turn the series around starting Tuesday night.

``You look at the numbers and wonder sometimes how we’re in these games and not getting blown out,’’ Van Gundy said on Monday. ``The fact that we’re still in games tells you that you can’t doubt how much our guys want this and what they’re putting into games. And in some ways that has to give our guys hope.

``They’re playing far, far closer to their potential. I don’t know how much better they can play,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``But we can play a lot better. We have to have some faith in each other offensively and some trust.’’

Only eight teams in history have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win best-of-seven series, most recently the Phoenix Suns beating the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006. Van Gundy informed them of that nugget on Monday and then took it one step further.

``It’s happened eight times in history that teams have come back from 3-1, but six of those times the team went on to win the next round,’’ Van Gundy said with a smile. ``You have to look at those things and really focusing on what’s important and that’s playing one great game on Tuesday. That’s all that really matters for now.’’

John Denton writes for E-mail John at Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at