If there was ever a time Orlando has shown a chink in its armor, it came in the second quarter. After Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson put on a show in the first quarter, before the second unit struggled to hold on to a 10-point lead and score. Stan Van Gundy experimented with a zone defense, and Orlando finally had a competitive preseason game.
Then the effort was ratcheted up in the third quarter, and, like in the other preseason games, the Magic methodically pulled away. Howard scored 20 points on 7-for-7 shooting (six for 10 from the line), grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots as a human deterrent in the paint and Carter scored 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting (four for four from beyond the arc) in another easy 101-76 victory, this time over the Mavericks, last year's Southwest Division champions.
What was good about this game was that Orlando did not have its best stuff tonight. And, more importantly, had to make a halftime adjustment and come out of the locker room ready to play if it wanted a win. That is a lot more than you can say about a lot of the games the Magic have played this preseason. They have made quick work of most of their opponents making the second half elementary.
This time Orlando needed its starters to re-establish control of the game. It was not until late in the period that Rick Carlisle called of his best players as the routine preseason malaise set in. The Magic held a 47-45 lead at the half. But like they have throughout this preseason -- even in blowouts -- the third quarter was the time for the starters to come in and dominate. Howard really took over offensively as he forced Dallas to foul him and stayed very active around the basket.
Really though it was Dwight's defense in this quarter that stuck out. Orlando outscored Dallas 28-11 in the period. By the midway point of the third quarter, Dirk Nowitzki (five points 2-6 FGs) was on the bench and Caron Butler and Jason Terry were the only starters on the floor. And they were not doing much. It did not help the Mavericks that Tyson Chandler had to leave the game after receiving two stitches on his finger. Obviously concern for injury played a small role.
Howard was really free to roam the paint tonight, whether by choice or by strategy. He pretty much ignored Brendan Haywood or (eventually) Ian Mahinmi down low until they caught the ball. He got away with roaming because he was very quick to rotate back to the ball and block the next shot. This roaming also led to some fouls underneath to cover for him (put down another 23 fouls for the Magic leading to 25 free throws).
That part of the evening went extremely well. The hiccup came in the second quarter (by far the worst quarter played this preseason).
Orlando gave up a 20-4 run that allowed Dallas to pull into the lead while the team experimented with a zone defense using a lineup of Chris Duhon-JJ Redick-Rashard Lewis-Brandon Bass-Marcin Gortat.
This lineup just did not click on either side of the ball.
In the period the team settled for jumpers constantly and struggled to get in the paint. Chris Duhon is really the only guy who can get to the basket, but he is struggling to finish right now and struggling to shoot so he is not really much of an offensive threat. The offense in this period consisted of a couple dribbles into the lane and then a pass back out to the perimeter. Rinse, wash and repeat until someone hoisted a 3-pointer.
This appears to be a similar formula to what the second unit did last year. This is what concerns me about that second unit. Watch the beginning of second quarters this year. This group needs to produce in order for the Magic to be successful. Undoubtedly a starter will be involved, but that player has to work harder to get open shots for his teammates. Lewis was not doing that tonight. In fact, it did not seem Orlando was looking to him in the post at all while he was at the 3.
But that may have been by design. Orlando was clearly trying some different things out -- including an offensive set where the two posts start at the elbow area. The big experiment came on defense where Orlando employed a zone for a long stretch.
It effectively did not work. Caron Butler was able to get and hit mid-range jumpers and Dallas' cutting -- especially Chandler around the rim -- ate the Magic defense alive in the second quarter. When the zone was run in the first, it was not as effective as Orlando's base defense, but Howard made it work better than the second unit.
It should also be noted, Dallas had pretty much its entire starting lineup playing against Orlando's second unit. The Magic's second unit is pretty good, but it will not be confused with the starting lineup any time soon. It should not be much to worry about, but a reminder that Orlando cannot always rely on its bench and may need to support them early in the second quarter at times this season.
The only remaining question this preseason is concerning the 11-man rotation. It appears Stan Van Gundy is set on playing both Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass significant minutes off the bench at least in the early part of the season. It means there are six guys off the bench vying for playing time. It can be extremely difficult to play 10 guys, so Van Gundy is looking to pull a big trick here.
Tonight Mickael Pietrus was the odd man out. It was easy to leave him out considering he had missed hte last two games with a sore right wrist and was clearly not 100 percent. He looked like he was not quite in game shape even though he has been practicing. It was very weird watching him play. does not seem to be anything to be worried about. Pietrus is known for not always having his focus even in meaningless regular season games.
Stanley Robinson Cut: Orlando announced after Wednesday's game that the team has waived rookie forward Stanley Robinson. Robinson, the super athletic forward from Connecticut, was taken with the No. 59 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He was always a long shot to make the roster. But because of his athleticism, he should find a roster spot somewhere.