Orlando Magic fans were more concerned with the status of Vince Carter’s ankle injury than anything happening on the court on Friday night. I know my mind was preoccupied trying to get an update on Vince. The Magic looked like their minds were elsewhere, as well, bumbling to a 95-85 win over the outmanned New Jersey Nets.
It looks as if crisis was avoided in regards to Carter’s ankle. It’s a “mild sprain,” according to Brian Schmitz
. Stan Van Gundy said x-rays came back negative in the post-game press conference, and Carter hopes to play Sunday vs. the Raptors. I wouldn’t be shocked to see JJ Redick get the start, though.
The injury derailed a brilliant game from Carter. He connected on 6-of-8 field goals for 16 points, in addition to four assists, in just 14 minutes of play. When Carter is on, it’s a scary thing. Here’s the breakdown of tonight’s game.
1. After the Magic’s opening-night victory against the 76ers, Stan Van Gundy said he wanted to see his team win a game with their defense. We saw that tonight. Orlando’s offense produced little once Carter went down, looking out of sync and clearly hurting from the absence of two all-stars in the primary lineup. That meant it was time for Orlando’s defense to win a game — and they responded. The Nets’ best three players —Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee — went 15-of-43 from the field, and the Nets simply don’t have the talent to compete with a team like the Magic without production from their stars. New Jersey saw very few open shots on their way to a 38-percent shooting night.
2. JJ Redick filled in nicely for Vince Carter. Nobody except Dwight Howard played more than JJ Redick, and even though Redick’s stat line isn’t jaw-dropping — 28 minutes, 12 points, 2 assists, 4-of-10 shooting — he certainly showed up to the occasion. Redick filled his spots on defense, did an adequate job on Courtney Lee and took care of the ball (no turnovers).
3. Courtney Lee vs. Ryan Anderson. Advantage: Anderson. Courtney Lee led the Nets with 18 points, but he did so inefficiently — he took 17 shots and didn’t create other opportunities for his teammates. Anderson blended in with the Magic’s offense, scoring 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting (his one rebound in 23 minutes is somewhat unsettling, though). So far, it appears the Magic may have gotten the best of the deal because Anderson is more useful to the Magic than Lee would be at this point. Of course, it’s easier to post solid numbers when you’re surrounded by Dwight Howard and Vince Carter instead of Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, but still — the Magic have no regrets about the deal.
What to like It’s not a win the Magic will look back on — surely, it’s one of those wins where you forget about it on the plane ride home — but it’s the type of win an elite team is supposed to win. It was ugly, but it gives you confidence knowing the Magic can take care of a team when they didn’t shoot well and were missing two key starters. The Magic controlled the defensive boards — something that was a problem for last year’s squad — allowing New Jersey only seven defensive rebounds. And whenever you can shut down the other team’s best two players, you’re happy about it. It was also a nice game for Jason Williams, who played more minutes than Jameer Nelson for the second consecutive game. Williams dished out eight assists with no turnovers in 26:38; Nelson had five assists, two turnovers and nine points in 21:43.
What not to like This is the regular season, and there are going to be games like this. It was a grind-it-out victory, the kind of game that isn’t particularly compelling to watch but the type of game this team has to win. Mickael Pietrus, Jameer Nelson, Jason Williams and JJ Redick — or in other words, the backcourt outside of Carter — combined to shoot 34 percent. Also, the Magic curiously only had one steal, though that statistic feels like an anomaly more than anything. The Nets did a great job of protecting the ball, which helped make up for their shooting woes and lack of offensive rebounds.
Behind the box score: Dwight Howard rebounded nearly half of the Nets’ missed shots during his time on the floor.
Magic’s best: Obviously, we’re going to see a lot of Dwight Howard in this spot, and tonight is no different. Highlighted by several head-turning dunks and a blocked shot where he caught the ball, Howard finished with 20 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks. If I had to point one reason for tonight’s victory, it’d be Dwight’s defense (and overall defensive presence) in the fourth quarter.
Magic’s worst: Matt Barnes put together one of the worst offensive lines of recent memory: 24 minutes, 0-of-6 shooting, 1 point, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 3 turnovers.
Up next: The Magic visit the Raptors for a day game, playing at 1 p.m. on Sunday. I don’t know why the NBA chooses to compete against the NFL, but we’ll be watching.