By John Denton
February 24, 2011
ORLANDO – A day after superstar center Dwight Howard said the Orlando Magic had done enough talking and needed to do more executing, the team didn’t practice so that it could have a team-wide discussion about everything that ills it.
Basically, there was plenty of talking by coaches and players. It will be determined if actions back up those words to avoid another disastrous loss like the one the Magic suffered Wednesday night to the woeful Sacramento Kings.
``I took a lot away from it. Coach (Stan Van Gundy) threw a lot of (points and statistics) at us,’’ Magic point guard and co-captain Jameer Nelson said. ``It’s just one of those days where there wasn’t yelling or screaming or anything like that, but some things were said that we needed to hear.’’
The Magic were still feeling a hangover on Thursday after falling apart in Wednesday’s 111-105 home loss to the 14-win Kings. Very little, other than a brief stretch in the second half when the Magic took a 12-point lead, went right. Orlando’s defense was gashed most of the game and the offense sputtered terribly in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
Add it all up and it amounted to one of the ugliest losses of the season for a Magic team that won two straight before the break for the all-star game and talked the past two days of playing with more of a sense of urgency. If Orlando (36-22) wants to make a serious push over the final seven weeks of the regular season, Wednesday’s washout was no way to go about it.
``Obviously (the sense of urgency) wasn’t there because we lost,’’ Magic power forward Brandon Bass said. ``But if we had won last night everybody would have said that we had a sense of urgency. We have to play hard and have that sense of urgency. Each individual has to want to win, really want to win and not just say it. It has to show when we step out on the court.’’
Thursday’s 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline came and went without the Magic making a move. Orlando dramatically re-tooled its roster two months ago, trading for Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. But those deals have failed to produce the consistency that the Magic have hoped for on either end of the floor.
The defensive concerns could be severely tested Friday night at Amway Center when the Magic host the Oklahoma City Thunder before a nationally televised audience. Forward Kevin Durant leads the NBA in scoring at 28.7 points per game, while point guard Russell Westbrook is eighth in the league in assists at 8.5 a game to go with his 22.1 points and 4.9 rebounds. OKC ranks fifth in the league in scoring at 104.79 points per game.
Durant and Westbrook had big performances to offset Dwight Howard’s 39-point night when the Thunder beat the Magic 125-124 on Jan. 13. Durant made 13 of 17 shots and scored 36 points, while Westbrook did as he pleased while compiling a triple-double with 32 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. OKC shot 56.4 percent against the Magic that night.
``Coming off a game like (Wednesday) night, we should be angry and want to guard and put out a better effort than we did,’’ Nelson said. ``I think we have enough in the locker room now to win and win at a high level. But we have to play at a high level. We have to get ourselves going. We have to get ourselves going before we can even be consistent.’’
Van Gundy was perturbed that the three points of defensive emphasis heading into Wednesday’s game – getting back to slow transition, shutting down drives to the paint and rebounding – proved to be disastrous against the Kings.
Van Gundy came to Thursday’s team meeting armed with a bevy of statistics in hopes of illustrating to his team that it can be really good when it defends, and really mediocre when it doesn’t. The Magic’s recent 7-7 rollercoaster stretch featured a big win against the Los Angeles Lakers, but has also been sprinkled with bad losses to Sacramento, New Orleans, Detroit and Memphis. In the maddening stretch of inconsistent play, there has been one constant – the Magic’s defense is usually a determining factor in success or failure.
``In the seven wins, teams have shot 40.8 against us, but in the seven losses teams have shot 48 percent against us,’’ Van Gundy said. ``In the seven wins, we’ve given up 86.6 points, but in the seven losses we’ve given up 101. … My frustration (from Wednesday) was that I didn’t think our effort was great and our focus wasn’t good at all.’’
Orlando’s next five games – against Oklahoma City, Charlotte, New York, Miami and Chicago – are against teams likely to be in the playoffs in mid-April. Nelson said he sees this time as almost a make-or-break moment for the Magic. Clearly, the sense of urgency has to be better than it was in Wednesday’s lackluster loss.
``It wasn’t necessarily the loss as much as it was the way we played that stayed with me (Wednesday) night,’’ Nelson said. ``It makes you cringe a little bit. (The Kings) are capable of winning, but last night was more about us and the way that we played. … There has to be a sense of urgency and everything has to be done better. We can’t just go out there and think we’re going to win games and think teams are going to lay down for us.’’