Stan Van Gundy made a surprise decision to begin Wednesday's game against Minnesota. Facing a stronger front line and the top rebounding team in the league, Van Gundy elected to start Ryan Anderson at power forward and shorten his rotation a bit.
Not that it would have mattered on this night.
Anderson kick started Orlando's offense draining three 3-pointers after Dwight Howard picked up his second foul very early in the first quarter. From there the basket must have looked like the Atlantic Ocean and the Magic never looked back. Minnesota was unable to solve Orlando's defense as Orlando scored a franchise-record 78 first-half points (the team record for a single half is 83 set in 1990 against Denver, and yes it was THAT game).
The Magic enjoyed a 30-plus point lead the entire second half and easily defeated the Timberwolves 128-86.
To give you an idea of how one-sided this was. Howard sat most of the first half with foul trouble. He still nearly put in a triple double finishing with 18 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks. He had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the first half. Marcin Gortat was informing Howard of his block count toward the end of the third quarter as he neared a triple double -- and the end of his evening. Howard played only 23:06 in this game.
The offensive stats in this game were simply crazy. Orlando was on a 40-8 run at one point in the second quarter. 40-8! You are not supposed to do that in the NBA to any team no matter how bad. 40-8!
This game was over midway through the first quarter and it was the boost from Anderson and improved ball movement that dissected Minnesota's defense. Really, Anderson's success has always been built on good passing so the fact that he played incredibly well is a good sign for Orlando's offense.
Anderson scored 19 points, hitting four of his eight 3-point attempts and six of his 10 field goals.
Orlando, coming off a game where it had a franchise-low five assists, easily eclipsed that mark and had 27 assists on 46 field goals. The passing effort was led by the guards as Vince Carter had seven assists and Jameer Nelson had nine.
Carter added 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting and four 3-pointers on five attempts. An incredibly efficient performance from Carter as he probed and attacked the defense and got to the basket. Through the small sample size of three games, it appears Carter gets more confidence from attacking the basket early and scoring in close. The Magic were definitely in attack mode even against the Timberwolves' big front line and the Timberwolves were powerless to stop them.
The ball movement, a typical trademark of this Orlando team, had to improve coming off that Miami game. It was the focus in practice and it translated onto the floor. Stan Van Gundy was quick to point out the opponent did matter tonight (Minnesota got beat by Miami by 32 Tuesday night, so the Heat the Wolves are not), but it was still much improved.
Carter posted an impressive assist rate of 37.9 percent. Nelson's nine assists showed he has the potential of being a distributor even when he is not scoring, a common criticism of Nelson. Nelson made only two of his nine shot attempts and scored just four points. But his assist rate was 43.1 percent. It was good Orlando saw its guards become willing passers.
That improved ball movement led to 50 percent shooting, 48.4 percent 3-point shooting (15 for 31) and 32 free throw attempts (making 21 of them). It also led to a super impressive 129.9 offensive rating (as you can see, this was a pretty fast game with tons of possessions).
Again, the opponent does matter.
But you could not help but still be impressed by the utter domination Orlando displayed.
Minnesota entered the game as the team's best rebounding team. The front line of Kevin Love, Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley (who did not play tonight after injuring his hip in Miami the previous night) is pretty imposing and has a lot of length to get rebounds. Even with the Magic playing well defensively, the Timberwolves were collecting offensive rebounds. They had 13 including four from Kevin Love. But Minnesota just could not finish around the rim.
The team made only a third of its shots as Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass did a very good job keeping everyone away from the rim and protecting the basket.
Bass came off the bench to score 19 points and grab nine rebounds. He missed only one of his seven shots and hit all seven of his free throws. Marcin Gortat also did a good job, especially in Dwight Howard's stead in the first quarter. He scored 12 points on six-for-seven shooting.
It was a good night for Orlando, helping the memories from Friday fade away.
The only bad news was Nelson's struggles offensively and Lewis' continued struggles offensively. Lewis was noticeably absent and Van Gundy appeared to be trying to force him to produce offensively in some garbage time in the fourth quarter. He even elected Lewis to take a technical free throw late in the game. That could have been a move to get him some confidence and see the ball actually go through the hole.
Because right now it isn't.
Lewis scored 11 points and shot 4 for 13 in the game. He had six rebounds, but contributed very little otherwise. It is a puzzle and will only feed continued criticism of Lewis.
Luckily tonight it did not matter. And like with that Miami game Friday night, the opponent must be considered when analyzing things. In two games, we have seen the worst and the best of this Magic team. What Orlando will be this year is likely somewhere in the middle.
The Magic have yet to really be challenged or play a close game through the preseason and three regular season games. As Van Gundy said, it will happen when it happens. But the Magic continue to roll... when they can.