Magic Play With Great Cohesion in Win Over Bucks
By John Denton
Jan. 31, 2014
ORLANDO – E’Twaun Moore aggressively drove down the lane to collapse the defense before flipping the ball over his shoulder to Maurice Harkless on the wing. Without hesitation, Harkless shuffled the ball onto the corner where a waiting Arron Afflalo drilled a 3-pointer as the first-half horn sounded.
It was a bit of perfect execution from the Orlando Magic on Friday and a microcosm of an otherwise flawless first half for a team that was in desperate need of something to feel good about.
Orlando took out some pent-up frustration on the Milwaukee Bucks – easily the NBA’s worst team – by capping a spectacular 67-point first half with Afflalo’s perfectly timed 3-pointer. That strong start, keyed by Afflalo’s strong desire to prove all-star voters wrong, paved the way to the Magic’s 113-102 thumping of an injury-ravaged Bucks team at the Amway Center.
``It felt pretty good. When we play that way, we’re a pretty good team,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said of the team’s crisp ball movement. ``We’re hard to guard when we’re moving and being active. When we play defense and people are moving it’s hard to guard. We’ve just got to keep doing this. We’ve done it in games that we’ve won and now we have to do it over and over again. That’s our way to win.’’
Orlando (13-35) broke a three-game losing streak by winning for a third time in the past four games at the Amway Center. The Magic extended Milwaukee’s losing streak to 16 straight games in Orlando, a skid that incredibly dates back to December of 2004. The Bucks (8-38), who were without O.J. Mayo, John Henson, Luke Ridnour, Zaza Pachulia and Ekpe Udoh, have lost five in a row and 10 of the last 11 games.
Afflalo, who was left off the Eastern Conference All-Star team on Thursday despite having some of the most efficient numbers among all shooting guards in the NBA, gashed the Bucks for 21 points and five rebounds in three quarters of work. He said that he would use the all-star snub as motivation and hopes the second half of the season will be a time for him to improve upon his already career-best year.
``There are certain feelings that you get at points in your life that are motivating factors when something that you were looking for doesn’t happen. For me, (the all-star snub) has given me a new level of passion and hunger,’’ admitted Afflalo, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter because of the one-sided nature of the game. ``I’ve got an extreme fire burning – not even about tonight. But my focus is going to be heightened with everything that I do.’’
Orlando had six players reach double figures in scoring. It shot a stellar 51.8 percent from the floor to defeat the Bucks for a second time this season. Afflalo had 36 points in that first win and possibly could have approached that number again Friday had he not been pulled when the Magic were up by as much as 25 points.
Orlando had an easy, breezy night because it shot an efficient 57 percent in the first half and nearly 53 percent in the game’s first three quarters. As evidenced by Afflalo shot just before the halftime horn, the Magic moved the ball well all night and had 22 assists on their first 33 baskets.
``That was fun to see. You look at the stat sheet and everybody who played tonight had an assist,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of his team’s 27 assists. ``We talked about for us to score the basketball we need each other. Tonight was a definite example of us playing together.’’ Orlando improved to 8-9 on the season when it scores 100 points. Conversely, the Magic are just 3-26 when their foe tops the century mark.
Vucevic played well a second straight game after coming back from a concussion and scored 12 points with his six rebounds in 25 minutes. Rookie Victor Oladipo chipped in 15 points and six assists, while Tobias Harris had 18 points and five rebounds against the team that traded him to Orlando last February.
The only negative of the night was veteran point guard Jameer Melson leaving the game after the first quarter and not returning because of a sore knee. Nelson played the entire first quarter while directing the Magic to a 35-point start in the first 12 minutes. Nelson didn’t play in the second quarter and the decision was made at halftime to hold him out because of soreness in the knee.
Reserve point guards E’Twaun Moore (12 points) and Doron Lamb (eight points) played well in Nelson’s absence. Nelson’s status for the short term is uncertain, which could mean more minutes for the likes of Lamb.
``My job is to always get ready when I get in the game,’’ said Lamb, who hit all three of his shots, two of which were 3-pointers. ``I don’t know when I’m going to get in, but I have to be ready and perform for my teammates. I just have to make shots and get my teammates involved.’’
Veteran forward Caron Butler led the Bucks with 20 points. Promising rookie Giannis Antetokounm scored all 15 of his points in the second half when the game was already a rout.
Orlando will be in action on Super Bowl Sunday for a fifth time in their 25-year history. And for a third time, they will be in Boston as prelude to the NFL’s championship game. The Magic and Celtics will tip off at 1 p.m. in what will be the only NBA game of the day.
Orlando was locked in and sharp in the early going, making 16 of their first 26 shots (61.5 percent) to blow out of a 22-point lead. The Magic had a commanding 67-46 at intermission by playing some of its best basketball of the season. The 67 points were not only the most in a first half this season, but also the most in any half all year, topping the 66 scored against Brooklyn in November.
``Tonight I thought we played really well as a team, in particularly in the first half to open up the game,’’ Afflalo said. ``We’ll be tested this weekend with two physical defensive teams in Boston and Indiana, so we’ll see how our playmaking abilities hold up.’’ Afflalo played like he had something to prove early on by attacking the Bucks to get open shots and free throw attempts. He had 14 points in the first quarter alone by making three of four shots and six of seven free throws. And when Afflalo drilled the 3-pointer just before the second-quarter horn, it gave him 17 first-half points.
``I thought he was ready to go from the beginning of the game. And that’s not to say that he usually isn’t, but he really wanted to play tonight,’’ Vaughn said. ``He just had a steely want in his eyes to go out and play extremely well. He made shots and another efficient night for him.’’ Playing his second game after missing more than three weeks with a concussion, Vucevic was aggressive and effective early on. He had 16 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday in Toronto and picked up where he left off on Friday.
Harris and Harkless gave the Magic nice lifts off the bench in the first half. Harris had eight points early on against his former team, while Harkless twice swiped the ball and turned them into points. He had 10 points in the first two quarters, including a nifty layup where he lost control of the ball and still had wherewithal to tip the ball in.
Vaughn said he and the team didn’t make a big deal about Afflalo being left off the all-star team on Friday morning at the team’s shoot around practice. But Vaughn can see the snub serving as a motivating factor for the already driven Afflalo. Vaughn hopes that the disappointment burns inside of Afflalo the rest of the season and drives him to keep improving on what has already been a career year.
``We’re all human and the last thing that I told him was this second half of the season to continue to let the league know how good you are,’’ Vaughn said of his message to the standout shooting guard. ``He’s a guy that takes pride in his craft and whether or not he says he was trying to send a message, I’m not sure. But I just loved the way that he played. His focus was extremely diligent tonight.’’