Energy has been the big buzz word for Stan Van Gundy all season. Will Orlando bring the energy every night on the offensive and defensive end of the floor to play up to its potential?
When the Magic have that energy and have that desire and will, mistakes get covered up with strong defense and a barrage of 3-pointers. They look nearly unbeatable. When they do not have that energy, they look like they did Monday night (OK, not that bad).
Energy was going to be the question when Orlando hit the floor Tuesday against a very strong Indiana team that was unbeaten on its home floor and following the game that will no longer be mentioned.
It looked early on that Orlando would have the energy offensively. The defense was a little behind. Then Dwight Howard picked up his second foul in the first and then picked up his third foul a few seconds into the fourth quarter, bighting on a pump fake from Lou Amundson of all people. The lead ballooned to 10 points and the Magic looked in for another long night.
Energy though can come from surprising places.
Yeah, there was Glen Davis making plays like he normally does. But it was Earl Clark sparking the defense and turning the game around. The Magic fed off the much-needed energy from Clark's first-half blocks and the score was tied at halftime.
Dwight Howard came back in, stayed off the foul line and brought the energy with the starting group. The defense became smothering and dominant, like we have come accustomed to in the Stan Van Gundy era.
Then Orlando blew the doors open. The Pacers could not get a good shot inside like they had throughout the first quarter. The Magic could hang their hat on a solid 102-83 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Dwight Howard became the Magic's all-time leading scorer with a dunk in the third quarter and finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. Ryan Anderson rediscovered his range with 24 points and eight rebounds, hitting five of seven 3-pointers.
The real damage for Orlando was done off the bench. Earl Clark scored only five points, but added four blocks, playing his best game in a Magic uniform according to Stan Van Gundy. J.J. Redick, playing as the primary option for a good chunk of the second quarter, scored 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting. Glen Davis had 13 points on six field goal attempts.
Energy really was the story again. It has been the story all season.
Clark's stat line did little to display his impact on the game. He changed the game with his energy and effort on defense. The Magic were swarming on defense.
Forced to double Roy Hibbert with Howard on the bench, the team had to make sure its rotations out to the perimeter were crisp. Closeouts were strong. The doubler rotated and hustled hard to get back and defend the second pass on the perimeter and force a contested shot. The team sucked into the paint when drivers came in.
It was a defensive effort reminiscent of the best of times under Van Gundy.
It permeated to the rest of the team very quickly and fed the offense. Orlando got 13 steals and turned Indiana's 19 turnovers into 17 fast break points. It was a rare game where the Magic were forcing turnovers and getting out on the break. It was a strong sign the team was active and ready to attack and be the aggressor.
It helped keep Indiana on the perimeter, shooting mid-range jumpers and away from the basket, the thing Indiana did successfully in building its lead.
Orlando brought the energy offensively too. The Magic moved the ball extremely well and got Dwight Howard the ball on the move. Players were cutting and driving, finding holes in the defense and attacking the basket. It will not be this easy against Boston on Thursday. But there was less of the standing around and waiting for Dwight Howard to do something that marked Monday's loss.
It was certainly an effort to be proud of, all things considered. The Magic still have a lot of work to do bring this kind of effort every night for 48 minutes. But reacting to Monday's loss, reacting Howard's foul trouble and then putting the Pacers away with a barrage of shots and steals in the fourth quarter, were good signs that Monday was an aberration. And, more importantly, this team can be a top team in the East.