By Josh CohenNovember 23, 2012
In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.
From the onset of a child’s participation on the court to all the organized and competitive involvement with the sport to the eternal enjoyment of playing pickup hoops in the driveway or the park, there is one drill that is forever practiced.
Shooting free throws.
Maybe it’s just because it’s so simple and straightforward or perhaps there is some subliminal delight in watching the ball slide through the net from the stripe 15 feet away. But regardless, free throws are not only the most practiced shot in the sport but also indisputably the most important.
Thousands of basketball games every year across the country at the high school, college or professional level are decided by free throws. In a close game that is undecided down the stretch, whichever team connects on the most free throw opportunities usually prevails.
Friday night at Amway Center was another demonstration of this authenticity.
And in contrast to the past when Magic fans had to endure watching Dwight Howard miss countless free throws, this current group seems to be comfortable at that so very critical line.
Notably J.J. Redick, who according to some is the greatest shooter on the planet, proved how reliable he is when his team needs a pair.
The sharpshooter buried eight straight free throws in the final 22 seconds to secure Orlando’s victory over Cleveland. By the time he went to the line for his sixth attempt, it almost felt like there wasn’t even a reason to watch him do it. He wasn’t missing. Confidence spread across the arena like birds committing to the air.
When you look up and down the Magic’s roster and especially at the players who will recurrently be on the floor in the closing minutes of a close game, you are refreshed to learn that everyone is at least moderately reliable at the stripe.
Redick is at 87 percent this season and for his career; Jameer Nelson hasn’t missed a free throw yet this season and shoots 81 percent for his career; Arron Afflalo is at 85 percent so far this year and Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic both hover around 70 percent.
That is rather extraordinary compared to the rest of the league.
It was evident that Orlando’s opponent on Friday, Cleveland, didn’t have the same buoyancy. Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller, for instance, each missed essential free throws in the final minutes.
While Friday’s victory wasn’t a surprise considering the Cavs didn’t have their best player, Kyrie Irving, and haven’t thrived in the early portion of this season, the win sets up a huge contest against the Celtics on Sunday.
The Magic have a very demanding schedule coming up. They host Boston, San Antonio and Brooklyn in its next three games and then have to travel out West for five straight, including a highly anticipated contest against the Lakers.
If the Magic can finish this eight-game stretch with at least three victories, that would be plenty considering they have a softball schedule for about a month subsequently.
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