Sunday's win was a big one. No doubt about it. The Magic needed to snap that eight-game losing streak to teams with a record above .500 and get the ball rolling positively heading into the All-Star Break. Not to mention, the team needs to bank some wins during this seven-game homestand that will go until the end of the month.
The big thing that came out of Sunday's game was not just the belief Orlando can play both efficient defense and efficient offense in the same game against an elite team. The other big thing is we saw how important Brandon Bass is going to be to the rest of this season.
Bass was certainly limited by his ankle injury in today's game and could probably continue to use the rehab and rest that the All-Star Game will afford him. His six points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes was crucial to Orlando taking control of the game. His +14 plus/minus was was second best on the team (behind only Dwight Howard). Bass hit only one of his three jumpers and scored the rest around the rim. He clearly needs to regain the strength and explosion in his legs.
But it brought up a pretty big point about this team.
The center position and the post position will become vitally important as the season continues and the Magic get to the postseason.
Boston and Los Angeles have plenty of big men to throw at Dwight Howard and can cause matchup problems for Ryan Anderson. As valiantly as Anderson has played in this recent stretch, it is abundantly clear he struggles against the better power forwards -- read: Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett -- in the league.
Bass is pretty important. And so is finding someone to give Howard a break or play in his stead.
It was pretty clear in Bass' absence that the Magic are a much much much worse defensively with Howard out of the game. In the six games Bass missed, Howard averaged 41.3 minutes per game (nearly five minutes more than he has averaged the rest of the season).
The Magic have relied heavily on Howard since trading Marcin Gortat. Howard often plays the entire second half of games and has seen his minutes bump way up. He has not played fewer than his average of 36.8 minutes per game in six games (the blowout against Washington). Before the trades he had 11 games below that average, since the trades (about the same time) he has had just nine games below the average. Remember, an average is supposed to be the middle.
Bass can fill in at center for short stretches, but the team needs someone to give Howard that 10-12 minute while still providing some post presence. That was what made Marcin Gortat so valuable.
Everyone expects the Magic to pick up a big man before the trade deadline either in a trade or in free agency. It appears likely that whoever Orlando signs is going to be a one-year deal.
Looking to this summer, finding someone to back up (and potentially replace?) Howard is going to be key to the Magic contending for the 2012 title.
That is where this rookie steps in. No, I am not talking about Daniel Orton, who is still rehabbing his knee injury and could see another stint in the D-League once he is healthy. I am talking about everyone's favorite Spaniard.
Yes, we are still wishing on that boat. But it appears we have reached the make or break point and one of the bigger drafting gaffes in league history could be coming to an abrupt conclusion.
A Barcelona news outlet is reporting Fran Vazquez has a four-year deal on the table from FC Barcelona, where he is averaging 12.0 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game in this year's ACB League. Reports are though, he feels more mature and ready to make the leap to the NBA. If he does, he has to play for the Magic.
Otis Smith has been in contact with Vazquez throughout this year and it appears this is the last chance Vazquez will have to come play for the Magic, otherwise the team may just hold on to his rights and do nothing with them.
With Gortat out of Orlando, Vazquez would fit perfectly as the team's backup center much the same way Gortat was. If you have seen video highlights you see a player who is pretty active on the glass and knows how to finish. He is potentially a Gortat carbon copy.
There is still a lot of work to do to get Vazquez to finally come over. But the fact Orlando is still going after this talented young center and felt willing to part with Gortat shows how much faith the team has in him... and how much Orlando needs a backup center behind Howard.