At the beginning of the season, celebrating clinching the sixth seed could not be met with more cheer. Yes, the Indiana Pacers are a very good team that wants to play the Magic as much as the Magic want to play the Pacers. This will not be an easy matchup. It is hope though because the alternative was playing the Heat, a sure sweet and merciful end to the season.
Hope can carry a lot of things for a team in need of good news. Desperately in need of good news.
Wednesday, Orlando got dealt another blow with Glen Davis spraining his ankle in the first quarter. That certainly does not bode well. J.J. Redick's career-high 31 points certainly does.
It was Redick coming through with eight extremely big points in the fourth quarter, allowing Orlando to hold off Charlotte 102-95 and clinch a date with Indiana this weekend for the first round of the Playoffs.
Orlando hit 7 of 11 3-pointers in the first quarter, but went ice cold after that. The team had just one more 3-pointer -- and plenty more misses -- until the fourth quarter. It was Redick who helped snap that cold streak and put the game way.
Redick drained back-to-back 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter to push a six-point lead to 12. Then on a possession following a 3-pointer from Charlotte, Redick shot the gap and scored a breakaway lay-up. It put the Magic up eight and for good.
In an otherwise frustrating game against what is looking to be the worst team in NBA history by record, it was the little bit of confidence and good news the team needed to accomplish a much-needed goal. Again, the Pacers are not a team the Magic should overlook, but they are not the Heat. And that seems to be the only good news the Magic have gotten in the last few weeks.
This game was absolutely brutal to watch though.
Orlando had its 3-point barrage to take a 13-point lead at the end of the first quarter. This lead expanded out to as much as 17 points in the second quarter. But the Magic never could put the Bobcats away and they inched their way back into the game.
The Magic could not buy a shot and could not finish at the basket. Orlando ended up shooting 14 for 38 for the game, meaning the team shot 7 for 27 on 3-pointers during the last three quarters. As the team hoisted away, the shooting percentage got lower and lower, dipping below 40 percent a few times. This was not a team about to dominate one of the doormats in the NBA. This was a team ripe for another comeback against that team.
Charlotte could not get out of its way and made a game of it.
D.J. Augustin was ready to take shots, hoisting 17 and making eight on his way to 23 points. Bismack Biyombo and Tyrus Thomas went after shots and forays to the rim, making it hard for Orlando to score for long stretches.
It was not the Bobcats getting in their own way in this one, it is the Magic getting in their own way. Orlando was fouling at an alarming rate and fouling often. Jameer Nelson, who was playing a pretty solid game, fouled out. Daniel Orton and Earl Clark got into foul trouble, leaving Orlando thin on the front line and thin defensively. And Orlando was already thin defensively.
The Bobcats took 32 free throws and posted a free throw rate of 45.7 percent. Charlotte was parading to the line and this enabled them to score 20 points in six minutes at one point in the second and third quarters as the lead dwindled down to single digits.
Orlando got great efforts to stay in the lead and were never threatened. Not with guys like Redick and Ryan Anderson and Jameer Nelson (when he was in) continuing to fight for this team.
Anderson had a struggle from beyond the arc, shooting 2 for 8 from beyond the arc. But Anderson was a workhorse on the glass with 13 points and seven offensive rebounds. He worked that into 24 points, a very strong effort for Anderson with his 3-pointer not falling.
Again, this team continues to show that it can play hard and fight but that it has some severe shortcomings. The Magic were far, far from perfect in the win over the Bobcats.
But maybe they need to rebuild themselves from the bottom up again. Sure, there is not a lot of time to do that. But some positivity and success might go a long way.