The first preseason game is always a bit of a mystery. You never know exactly what type of game you are going to get. One thing you can bet is there will be lots of turnovers, some shots missed short and ugly, ugly basketball.
Stan Van Gundy is not one to take any game lightly. He was even seen showing signs of visual frustration over a late dunk where the defense was clearly not applying itself. So, to some extent, he could be happy with some of the things his offense showed.
Orlando showed no signs of rust, shooting 57 percent in the first half and finishing shooting 48 percent from the floor. The Magic had 18 turnovers -- not a great number, but considering the normal number for the first preseason game is up in the 20s. They experimented some with lineups and found a lot of success, taking advantage of the Rockets in the post to get a 97-88 win in Hidalgo, Texas.
That obviously started with Dwight Howard, who displayed several nifty post moves taking advantage of the slow-footed Yao Ming, playing in his first game since the 2009 Playoffs. Howard scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to go with three blocks. He eschewed his typical power moves in favor of quick spin moves and counter-moves to go along with a couple of 15-foot bank shots.
To me, he showed a lot more patience than in previous years in making his moves. He faked and jabbed a lot more and looked to make a second move off his original move. OK, so he was doing it against a guy who has not played basketball in more than a year and is not exactly known for being fleet of foot. And it was a preseason game so let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. But Howard looked very dominant to say the least.
Howard was not the only guy to see time in the post. It seemed like everyone was getting looks in the post.
Quentin Richardson had a few post opportunities against Kevin Martin or Courtney Lee. Although he did not score (just two points in his Orlando debut), the opportunities were there.
Rashard Lewis, playing the 3 for much of the second and third quarters, was truly lethal on offense in the post. He scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and made two of his three 3-point attempts. When he posted up he simply scored. Almost all of his points came in the second quarter with Brandon Bass in the game alongside him at power forward.
His defense at the 3 is still a work in progress. But offensively he should work out fine.
On top of that, Orlando's usual smart passing was as present as ever. Orlando had 22 assists on its 38 field goals, despite making only eight of the team's 28 3-point attempts. Credit those missed threes to tired legs as the Magic still work to get into game shape -- remember, this is the first preseason game.
Now, the stuff Van Gundy really likes. The defense was, predictably, still a step slow. Vince Carter had some nice steals and looked to be moving quicker laterally, but he was beat back door a few times. Lewis, as mentioned, had issues defending the perimeter -- something he will have to get more used to. Howard was dominant defensively, but also committed two early fouls. If this were not a preseason game, he would have been out of the game pretty early. To his credit he committed only one more foul the rest of the game.
The other members of the Magic, were not so lucky. Orlando committed 22 fouls, leading to 30 free throw attempts for Houston. The Rockets also out-rebounded the Magic 45-41 including an 11-6 edge on the offensive glass.
The fundamentals of the defense, you could say, were there but obviously the team needs some more experience working together to tighten it up.
The bench also struggled to extend the lead and fell into the same trap it had last year. The players settled for jumpers instead of attacking the rim or feeding the ball into the post. Sure, Ryan Anderson hit a 3-pointer, but he was not able to do much more. And neither could the bench.
It was not until Lewis came back into the game at the 3 that Orlando extended its lead out to 16 at the half.
The final score is not important to the point that it is not important. The Magic maintained the lead, but let it bounce in and out of double digits for most of the game. The starters controlled the game and made sure Orlando earned a win (an unimportant one, but a win nonetheless).
There is still plenty to work on for sure. The defense has to tighten up and make teams really struggle to get good looks and not allow them to scrap to stay in the game. That is partly effort for sure, but it is also making sure everyone is in the right position.
The everyone post up strategy will probably not be something that is used throughout the season, but rather something to test in this type of a game. There are still pick and rolls and lineups to experiment with. Lewis still needs to get some work at the 3 and we have yet to see Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat in the lineup together.
Plenty to work on still. But this was a great first step and everything appears to be falling into place. It may be too early to say that.