By John Denton
November 4, 2012
ORLANDO – Granted, it’s just two games into this new era of Orlando Magic basketball. But considering what’s taken place already, it’s hard to argue that the new-look Magic squad that’s already defying expectations doesn’t have something special in the works.
Forced to play without starters Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu and trailing by as much as 14 points on Sunday, the Magic flipped the script with a jaw-dropping about-face in the second half to throttle the Phoenix Suns at the Amway Center.
When the Magic’s somewhat-stunning 115-94 win was complete, Orlando had a second lopsided victory of the season and a collective confidence that was threatening to blow the roof off the Amway Center.
Again, it’s painfully early into the NBA’s marathon, 82-game season and challenges could lie ahead for a shorthanded roster. But the Magic (2-0) earned the right to savor Sunday’s second straight victory, and that’s what they did.
``When it’s pure and it’s genuine, it’s a whole different feeling. And you’ve got to be here to feel it. There are no agendas, there’s no I and it’s a team,’’ Magic power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis said. ``It’s a great feeling when a team comes together for a win. When there’s no I, and it’s us and we’re not fighting against everything else, it’s great. It’s one heartbeat.’’
Magic rookie coach Jacque Vaughn, the youngest mentor in the league at 37 years old, has yet to lose a game and his re-tooled team is living up to its promise of playing hard and sharing the ball. For a team that several in the national media gave little chance of competing this season after trading away Dwight Howard, the season couldn’t have begun much better.
``This was a gutsy effort by the men in that locker room and I’m extremely proud of them,’’ Vaughn said. ``(In the second half), we started to be the aggressors and we got in attack mode. That’s how you have to play in this league.’’
J.J. Redick (24 points and three 3-pointers), Davis (22 points and eight rebounds), Arron Afflalo (22 points and three 3-pointers) and Nikola Vucevic (18 points and 13 rebounds) left the game late in the fourth quarter to raucous cheers. The Magic’s starters certainly deserved an ovation after digging out of a 68-54 hole and leading Orlando back to a 21-point lead at one point of the fourth quarter.
``I saw a change in that third quarter in the energy level,’’ Redick said. ``The two guys who set the tone were Arron and Glen. Their energy got us going and was key. That got us going and back in the game. It was just what we needed.’’
The Magic shot 36 percent in the first half, but 64.3 percent in a second half in which they outscored the Suns 69-38. The Magic made their first seven 3-pointers and nine of 11 in the game.
The Magic were without Nelson and Turkoglu because of injuries. Nelson strained his hamstring and twisted an ankle in Friday’s 102-89 defeat of Denver and is listed as ``day to day.’’ Turkoglu broke a bone in his left hand on Friday, had surgery on Saturday and is expected to miss at least four weeks.
The injuries allowed rookie DeQuan Jones to make the first start of his NBA career. A month ago, Jones was an undrafted rookie just hoping to make the roster, but on Sunday he realized a dream by starting a NBA game. Jones had two points in 16 minutes.
E’Twaun Moore, who had 13 points in his Magic debut on Friday, started at point guard in place of Nelson. The Magic are hoping that Nelson can play on Tuesday after not practicing on Saturday, Sunday or Monday. On Sunday night, Moore made six of 11 shots, hit all three of his 3-pointers and scored 15 points.
Veteran power forward Josh McRoberts (five points and seven rebounds) also helped the Magic slow Phoenix’s Luis Scola (24 points), Michael Beasley (22 points) and Marcin Gortat (14 points and 11 rebounds) in a second half in which the Magic outscored the Suns (1-2) 69-38 over the final 24 minutes.
``We’ve got a group that’s just not going to quit,’’ McRoberts said. ``It’s not always going to go like this with us coming all the way back and winning, but we’re not ever going to give up and go away easily.’’
The Magic leave on Monday for their first roadtrip of the season. Orlando plays in Chicago on Tuesday and Minnesota on Wednesday. The Bulls will be without star point guard Derrick Rose, while the Timberwolves won’t have all-star power forward Kevin Love because of injuries.
Davis, who is averaging 25.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games, said there’s a distinct feeling now that the Magic have something special in the works this season. He said it started all the way back in the summer with the organizational change and then with the alterations to the roster.
``When they hired (GM) Rob (Hennigan) and then they hired (Jacque) Vaughn and then the whole group came together, I knew there was a change here,’’ Davis said. ``You’re starting to see it now. We’re building from the core and we’re going to make some things happen.’’
The game was delayed for 12 minutes in the second quarter when a timeout skit went horribly wrong and a shredded net had to be replaced. When a fan tried to dunk off a trampoline, he missed the rim and caught his hand on the net, causing the net to rip off the basket. It took Amway Center workers more than 12 minutes to replace it with a new net.
Down 10 points at halftime after a rocky first two quarters, the Magic put on an offensive clinic in the third quarter. After falling behind 68-54, the Magic authored a 25-7 spurt to spring into the lead. Davis made six of 10 shots for 12 points and Afflalo had a three-point play, a 3-pointer and two free throws – eight consecutive points – during the game-changing run.
``I just really want to win,’’ said Afflalo, who made eight of 16 shots and all three of his 3-point attempts. ``You can feel it in the gym when it’s quiet and you don’t have energy. You just have to do something about it and pick it up. Our entire team did a good job of upping the intensity in that second half.’’
In all, the Magic outscored the Suns 40-20 in the third quarter to take a somewhat shocking 86-76 lead into the fourth quarter. After shooting just 36 percent in the first half, the Magic made 16 of 24 shots (66 percent) in the third period.
``Tonight was a character test for us and I thought we showed a lot of character in the second half,’’ Vaughn said. ``That game could have easily turned into a 10-to-14-to-20-point game, but the men in that locker room showed a lot to me tonight. I told them that I was extremely proud.’’
The Magic trailed 56-46 at the break following a first half where very little went right. The Magic shot just 36 percent from the floor, while allowing the Suns to shoot 50 percent from the floor. Also, the Magic were outrebounded 29-23 in the half, allowing Phoenix to score 26 points in the paint early on.
Davis, who carried the Magic throughout Friday’s win, made just two of nine shots in the first two quarters. Also, after picking up three fouls, the Magic kept Davis in the game for almost four minutes without picking up a fourth foul.
Redick was once again aggressive in his reserve role, scoring 15 points off the bench in the first half. He made five of his first six shots and had 11 points in his first seven minutes on the floor. Redick hit two threes and six of 10 shots in the first half. Playing without Turkoglu, the Magic had no answer for Beasley and Scola in the first half. The two forwards made 11 of 20 shots early on and combined for 27 first-half points.
But the Magic were able to brush aside the sloppy first half with a final 24 minutes where they shared the ball offensively, fought harder in the paint on defense and surged to yet another victory despite missing two key players.
``It’s very early in the season and we’ve got a long way to go, but it’s an exciting group that we have and I want to see us keep getting better,’’ McRoberts said. ``But we can see that we have a group that will fight hard every night.’’
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
Follow John Denton on Twitter here