Maybe Wednesday night’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers was a much-needed wakeup call. Maybe it took a nationally televised home loss to the Magic’s biggest rival for everyone to realize it: right now, the Magic just aren’t that good. And just because the Magic are deep and talented on paper, doesn’t mean they can show up on the court and win NBA basketball games with their presence alone.
The Cavaliers crushed the Magic 102-93 behind dominating performances from LeBron James (36 points) and Mo Williams (28 points, including a 9-for-9 start). It wasn’t a particularly good game on offense or defense for the Magic — but the main point of concern is defense, where the Magic gave up 66 points to the Cavs in the first half. And it’s not like the Cavs are a superior offensive team thus far; they’re 20th in the NBA in offensive rating.
“Hopefully that will end up being a good game for us. Maybe we’ll start to learn something,” Stan Van Gundy said after the game. “We’re just not very good. That could be a very good starting point, if we’re honest enough and we quit with all the excuses, and we quit with thinking that it’s just gonna come.”
I think we’re all guilty of thinking it’s just going to come. Just two days ago, I said I wasn’t worried about the Magic because of the injuries and all the new faces to acclimate. Tonight was the first time I had second guesses about the Magic’s moves this summer.
None of the Magic’s summer acquisitions, outside of probably Matt Barnes, is known for their defensive prowess. I figured it wouldn’t matter this season because the Magic still have the core players that led the NBA in defensive rating last season, and it’s not like the now-gone Hedo Turkoglu is a great defensive player.
But last night, for the first time this season, I thought that maybe, just maybe, the Magic are playing poorly on defense because of their personnel. Is that really true? I don’t know.
It was the ninth game of the season, and with an elite team such as Orlando, this might as well be the preseason. There’s plenty of time to work on that defense and get it better as the year goes on — just like last season. For now, it’s a real basketball season again for Magic fans.
This isn’t a fairy tale where we watch this talented team and expect 20-point victories to roll in. This isn’t an 82-game championship parade. The Magic are just like everyone else, going through their problems and hoping to peak at the right time. Hopefully, the team realizes the same thing, and a loss like tonight’s can hopefully be a turning point.
1. Dwight found foul trouble – again. At 9:42 in the first quarter, Howard received his second foul and spent the rest of the quarter on the bench. At 10:18 of the second quarter, Howard received his third foul. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 4 minutes, 3 fouls. Howard remained in the game in the second quarter, because at that point, there was no sense in sitting him — even if it’s risky, you have to go down with your star on the floor. Regardless, Howard must do something to alleviate the fouling problem. Howard’s per-36 numbers are close to last year, but because he simply can’t stay on the floor, his numbers are down. His early fouls were touch fouls, all of them, but if these touch fouls happen every night then maybe it’s time to start looking at the player, not the refs.
2. We saw some interesting lineups, including both teams going with the Twin Towers look. Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat spent 17 minutes on the floor together, mostly in part to combat Cleveland’s lineup of Big Z and Shaq on the floor at the same time. After the game, Van Gundy said he messed up the rotation, constituting no flow to the game. I would’ve liked to see Matt Barnes at the 4 against the Cavs’ big lineup, just to see what happens. Sure, Big Z could hypothetically back down Barnes with ease, but I like the Magic’s chances with Big Z in the post against anyone, rather than LeBron James or Shaq or Mo Williams. And how would Big Z defend Barnes? That would’ve been interesting, and I felt tonight that the Magic were reactive rather than proactive when it came to the lineup. I don’t think Van Gundy would disagree.
3. Mo Williams was unconscious. Williams, who shot just 37 percent in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, started 9-for-9 and 4-for-4 from three-point range tonight. He scored a season-high 28 points, tied a season-high with six assists, and made a season-high 12 field goals. Williams penetrated at will, getting into the heart of the defense and creating for himself and others. After Raymond Felton and Russell Westbrook played well against the Magic in the two previous games, maybe it’s time to grow concerned about the Magic’s point-guard defense. Before last season, point guards always tore up the Magic. It starts with Jameer Nelson.