If you wanted more of the same mediocrity and lethargy that you saw Sunday night, the first half would be your lesson for that. The Magic opened the game missing their first 12 shots and were down 12-0 midway through the first quarter. It was the same frustrating play. There were lots of missed open shots, but little ball movement or penetration.
The aggression level was low and the team seemed happy to settle for jumpers rather than attack the glass. You could blame it on tired legs from a few hard days at practice or you could blame it on whatever. In their second public display before the regular season, the Magic looked as lethargic and unprepared for "real games" as ever.
Then it all clicked. At halftime, Jameer Nelson found his legs and found his energy and aggression. It permeated throughout the entire roster and became infectious.
A team that was playing well and with energy, according to Stan Van Gundy, but was not making shots suddenly put that final piece of the puzzle together. A team that looked unprepared for the regular season mere moments ago seemed ready to take on the world and take down the defending Eastern Conference champions. This was the kind of inconsistency the team featured throughout the disappointing 2010-11 campaign.
They needed a jolt to find themselves and look like the team they can be in a 104-100 win over the Heat at Amway Center on Wednesday.
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"As I told the guys at halftime and right before the third quarter, we want to come out and have a great second half," Dwight Howard said. "No matter what happened in the first half, we took a lot of good shots. We have to get into a rhythm and playing, and once that happens, we'll be OK. We all came out, our energy level picked up, we ran more and you saw a lot of great things. Everybody just played hard and that was the big difference between the first game and the second game. Our intensity picked up, we stayed focused and we didn't worry about missing shots or turning the ball over, we just kept playing."
Jameer Nelson provided that jolt with eight points on 3-for-3 shooting. More importantly, his aggression off the pick and roll and driving into the lane created passing lanes for passers. After a first half where the team struggled to put the ball in the hole, no more than Nelson who followed up an 0-for-10 game in Miami on Sunday and a 1-for-7 effort in the first half Wednesday. Nelson still had five assists in the first half, but to find that rhythm Orlando needed to get going.
Nelson was certainly one of the players who did not let missed shots get him down. He changed his complete attitude. And that energy carried over to Jason Richardson, who also added eight points in the third quarter on 3-for-4 shooting. His emphatic slam dunk on a fast break with Nelson -- something that resulted in a turnover in the first half -- energized Amway Center.
So too did the electric play of Glen Davis. Davis and Howard ran a screen and roll with Jameer Nelson to perfection as the Heat were slow getting around the staggered screens. It freed up Nelson and Davis showed his value as a roll man. He scored 13 of his 18 points in the third quarter. A lot of bad memories involving Davis in a Boston uniform are going to slowly be forgotten if he adds more energetic games like this.
It was a long road to get back into the game and make the Magic look good. Orlando was down 12-0 early and had a big hole to dig out of. Worse than that, the Heat took 40 free throws in the first half alone as a still struggling Magic team could not keep the Heat in front of them. Miami went nearly nine minutes in the first the second quarter without recording a field goal. Yet they built their lead up to as much as 23 points and held a 14 point lead when Dwyane Wade's driving layup finally ended the drought.
Miami had only 13 free throws in the second half showing a change in intensity and activity from Orlando in the second half. Getting into better condition and improving their effort consistently have been Van Gundy's focuses in the last few days of practice. Despite the slow start to the game offensively, Stan Van Gundy said the team showed some life in the first half, they just were not making shots.
"Even in the first half, I thought we really came out with good energy and good life," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We just couldn't make a shot. I thought our first six or seven possessions we got great shots. I thought defensively we fought hard in the first half we just fouled every time. They shot under 40 percent in the first half. I don't think it was that we didn't show life, we just didn't make any shots to start the game."
Van Gundy said the team did not talk about anything at halftime besides defense and reacting quicker and being in the right position. It really came down to making shots for the Magic to get a win on the scoreboard and erase a 23-point deficit.
"It just kind fo clears the cobwebs and just say forget about whatever and just go out there and play," Quentin Richardson said. "Regardless of what's going on, whether we are making shots or anything we know we can play harder than we were playing. We could put out more energy. And once we did that, I think that is what turned the game around."
And so the question again becomes about consistency. Will the second half of Wednesday's game be the team we see in Oklahoma City or will we see the passive team from the first half and the first preseason game.
One thing is for sure, the results of the second half and the effort the team put in Wednesday could help the team move forward and prepare for the regular season.