ORLANDO – Stan Van Gundy has never been one for moral victories. Tuesday night might have been an exception. The second day of "training camp" went much better than the first as Orlando nearly fought back to take a game from Dallas.
Still, the new-look Magic are not quite there yet. Progress was made, but a finished and complete project this team is not.
Orlando cut into a late Dallas lead thanks to two contested Jason Richardson 3-pointers – the only two he made in seven attempts – helping to pull the Magic within two with 24.3 seconds left and completing a 13-6 run over the final three minutes.
Still the more seasoned Mavericks were able to prevail. Richardson's third heave from deep missed and Jason Terry secured the rebound to ice a 105-99 victory for Dallas on Tuesday night at Amway Center in front of the largest crowd (19,057) to ever see a home Magic game.
Again, like Monday night in Atlanta, there was no faulting the effort as the Magic fought and clawed despite facing the long odds of coming together as a team on the fly.
Even Stan Van Gundy was impressed by what his team was able to accomplish, albeit in a losing effort.
"I thought that there were a lot of positive things to build on," Van Gundy said. "I thought that we did some things very well tonight. I thought our ball movement was a lot better. I don't think we had much trouble getting good shots."
It was again putting those shots in the hole that was the problem. Orlando shot only 44.2 percent from the floor and 11 for 29 from beyond the arc. The Magic did not attempt a free throw until the second half – and then they went a perfect 12 for 12.
Orlando got good efforts from the established stars as the new players are slowly finding their way into the team. Howard posted his second 20/20 game in three games with 26 points and 23 rebounds. Jameer Nelson paced Orlando with 19 points and six assists, hitting four of his seven 3-point attempts. JJ Redick, who started tonight because of concerns about having Howard and Bass in foul trouble without Malik Allen available, scored 21 points.
Those guys stepped up to make sure the Magic had a chance in this one.
"We knew that we played harder than we normally do and they got an 11-point lead and we didn't give up," Nelson said. "The last seven, eight games before this, a team would make their run, we kind of folded, kind of crumbled at the end. We didn't see any of that tonight, we had all the fight that we could give and they beat us tonight."
That was the big difference between tonight and the games over the last two weeks. Orlando did not crumble when it went down.
Orlando trailed by 12 with 4:34 to go after Jason Terry got free for a floater. The Magic answered with a Jameer Nelson 3-pointer and then things got going. Nearly a minute later JJ Redick hit a three to cut the lead to six. The Magic never stopped fighting even after its run was hampered by a missed Hedo Turkoglu dunk and 3-pointer.
The Magic were in this one. And that was despite a shaky defensive performance as guys still are learning where they need to be on the floor.
"I thought we tried hard most of the time defensively," Van Gundy said. "I don't think that we are very good defensively right now, but again I think that we can cure that over the next couple of weeks. I like the way we fought in the fourth quarter. We got down double figures and gave ourselves a chance to get back into the game."
It was definitely a better effort than against Atlanta. Orlando won the battle on the boards 40-38, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds – eight from Howard. It was very different from the game against the Hawks where they were dominated on the glass.
But the Mavericks still shot 50 percent and 12 for 26 from beyond the arc. The Mavericks went to the line 21 times, making 17.
The effort on Dirk Nowitzki, led by Turkoglu, was good as he made only four of his 13 shots and scored 17 points.
While the team might be happy about that. There is still plenty to be wanting from the new guys. Richardson nearly became the hero, but the three main new guys shot a combined 7 for 31 and 21 points. Turkoglu turned in a good game off the dribble with eight assists (to go with four turnovers and 2-for-11 shooting).
"Today we're running better than we did yesterday," Gilbert Arenas said. "We have practice tomorrow and then our next game will be better than tonight."
So for now, patience is the word. Stan Van Gundy said he is as frustrated as anyone, but realizes this is a team pretty much going through training camp going against teams that have had a month together before they play games.
It is, as Van Gundy said, a difficult situation for all of the players. And if tonight showed anything, even on two days of practice, the Magic can stand toe-to-toe with one of the better teams in the league. As I said last night, this will be a work in progress for a while. Van Gundy said his only goal is for his team to get better every day. The offense for the new guys will come as they return to their means.
"We've got to continue to play with as much energy as we did tonight and play as hard as we did tonight and try to get better every day," Van Gundy said. "That's really my only goal right now. I don't think anybody who watched both games can say we didn't get better from last night to tonight."