Magic Use Defense to Beat the Nets

The New Jersey Nets entered Friday night’s game against the Magic without a victory on the season. The Orlando Magic came in having lost two of their last three games. The Nets got off to a hot start and scored the game’s first seven points. Orlando answered with a 9-0 run and finally got the lead for good in the second quarter and won the game 88-72.

The Magic had to play without any of their three Power Forwards – Ryan Anderson (ankle), Brandon Bass (flu), and Rashard Lewis (suspension). Luckily for the Magic, the Nets’ injury report was twice as long. Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy took note.

“It was nice to play a team that was more depleted then we were.”

The story of the night for the Magic was their defense. After a poor first quarter in which the Magic allowed the Nets to score 27 points on 50% shooting, the Magic buckled down, allowing just 45 points the rest of the way. The Nets shot just 29% the rest of the way, finishing the game 28-of-84 (33.3%). The Nets also game out hot from downtown, hitting three of their first four 3-point attempts, but finished just 5-of-16 for the night (31.3%). The Magic also allowed the Nets to attempt just 13 free throws (11-of-13), forced 11 turnovers and blocked 9 shots. Stan Van Gundy was very happy with Orlando’s defensive effort – we haven’t heard that much so far this season.

“I liked what we did defensively. I thought Dwight, in particular, was very very good at the defensive end. Brook Lopez is a very good player and didn’t look like it tonight. I think in large part to Dwight’s defensive effort. Plus, he blocked five shots. I thought it was a better defensive effort overall.”

Dwight Howard has a season-high 26 points, 12 rebounds, and a season-high 5 blocks tonight. He was a monster inside, looking more like the typical Superman. He had several dunks and dominated whoever was covering him. He shot 10-of-14 from the field. Unfortunately, he did not continue his recent free throw shooting success as he was just 6-of-12 from the line. Orlando’s offense wasn’t very effective in the first three quarters, but they did do an excellent job of getting the ball in to Howard when he had good position (and he did a much better job of getting himself good positioning). Van Gundy was happy about that.

“I thought we did some good things getting the ball to Dwight deep in the paint in the first half, but we’re just not shooting the ball well at all right now. And because of that, people are able to pack the paint on Dwight. And until we start shooting better, it’s going to be hard to get room.”

Ain’t that the truth? Orlando didn’t shoot the ball terribly for the game (33-of-74, 44.6%) but they were awful from 3. 19 of their 41 misses came from downtown they finished just 8-of-27 from beyond the arc (29.6%). The Magic really seem to be missing their shooting Power Forwards. Van Gundy commented on how the Magic can’t spread the floor the way the like too. They had to rely on getting good looks in the paint to score for most of the game tonight.

One guy that just hasn’t been able to get into any kind of rhythm when it comes to his shot is Matt Barnes. Barnes is shooting just 39.2% on the season and is shooting just 20% from downtown. For his career, he’s a 43.2% shooter from the field and a 32.7% from beyond the arc. When he was asked about doing the little things in Friday night’s game, he mentioned that he had to do something because ”he can’t shoot the ball anymore.”

I asked Matt about how he goes about trying to get out of a funk like this.

“I’ve tried not shooting before the game. I’ve tried shooting extra shots. I don’t know. This is the worst I’ve ever shot the ball in my whole life. This is a new one for me. I’ve gone through small two or three game stretches, but I have to say my first 10 games have been – I don’t even know what I’m shooting. You know, I’ve just got to stay confident. Coach is believing in me. I just got to work my way through it.”

Barnes finished tonight 1-of-4 from downtown and 4-of-9 from the field. He had 13 points. Shooting was Barnes’ only problem. He had a fantastic game. He was the team’s leading rebounder, finishing with 13 boards. Van Gundy was very happy about that.

“Matt did a great job on the defensive glass for us.”

It seems like I talk about this after every game, but Barnes brings so much energy and effort on both ends of the floor. He dives for loose balls and (usually) gets after it on defense. Tonight, he forced some jump balls, helped forced a couple of shot-clock violations and even blocked a shot, but Barnes’s biggest impact, besides the rebounding, came from his passing. He repeatedly gave Dwight Howard good looks at the basket. He assisted on four of Howard’s 10 baskets, finishing the game with five assists.

Barnes did all of this while having to play out of position at Power Forward. He has played Power Forward before in his career and has been at the position for small stretches this season, but not for a whole game, like he was for nearly 38 minutes tonight. I asked Barnes about playing the 4 tonight as opposed to his usual spot at the 3.

“Just to try to get on the boards a little bit more. We’re a little undersized and they’re a bigger team than us so I knew we were going to need help on the glass. My main focus was to keep my guy off of the glass and go out there and get more rebounds.”

And he did just that.

Barnes also injured his pinky on his left hand, but the x-rays came back negative. He should be good to go Monday.

New Jersey led by 4 after one period before the Magic buckled down defensively, holding the Nets to just 15 second quarter points. Orlando had an even better third quarter defensively, out-scoring the Nets 20-14. Unfortunately, the Magic couldn’t get anything going on offense for the first three quarters and entered the fourth quarter nursing a 62-56 lead. That’s when the excitement started.

Part of the reason for Orlando’s struggles on offense was that they only had three bench players, because they had just eight players available for tonight’s game. That “bench” entered the fourth quarter having yet to score a point. That’s when Jason Williams got going. He hit a jump shot, assisted on a Barnes layup, hit a 3-pointer and then assisted on a Vince Carter 3-pointer all in the span of just three minutes. During that time, Orlando increased their lead from 66-60 to 78-62. Later in the period, Jason Williams had a dirty crossover on slow-footed Power Forward Eduardo Najera that resulted in a layup for Williams. He may be known as J-Will now, but he was White Chocolate on that play. Williams finished the game with 9 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 2 assists. Van Gundy was happy with Williams’ fourth quarter performance.

“J-Will had a nice little run there where I thought he really really helped us.”

As for the rest of the Magic, Nelson was rather ineffective in this game, finishing with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Vince Carter still isn’t attacking the basket. He was 5-of-12 from the field and 3-of-6 from downtown. He finished with 14 points.

Mickael Pietrus was awful in the first half. He made wild passes, was slipping and falling and frequently turned the ball over. He turned it around in the second half and even had an assist a beautiful pass in transition. He wound up going 6-of-14 from the field, scoring 16 points.

Marcin Gortat had a quiet game, stat-wise, but he was very effective on the defensive end, blocking 2 shots and altering some others. Van Gundy was very happy with his effort.

J.J. Redick had another rough night shooting the ball – he was 0-of-6 from the field.

Rafer Alston had an excellent game in his return to Orlando. He led the early barrage for the Nets, scoring 9 points and dishing out 5 assists in the first period. He kept his excellent play up throughout the game and although his shooting fell off (7-of-20), he finished the game with a triple double – 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Game Notes:

  • All five Magic starters scored in double figures and reserve Jason Williams scored 9.
  • The Magic won their game of the season when trailing after the first quarter.
  • Orlando was awful from the foul line, shooting just 14-of-25.
  • Both New Jersey (12 and 11) and Orlando (16 and 15) had just one more assist than turnovers.
  • Terrance Williams was 3-of-17 from the field while Brook Lopez was 1-of-12.
  • Chris Douglas-Roberts played for the first time since being diagnosed with swine flu. He had 5 points in 18 minutes.
  • The Magic scored 36 points in the pain to New Jersey’s 24 and had 9 second-chance points to New Jersey’s 7. The Magic also had 21 fastbreak points while New Jersey had 15.
  • Orlando out-rebounded the Nets 48-44.

Final Thought: The Magic should get Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson and All-Star Rashard Lewis back Monday. Then, we can start really judging this team.

Next up: The Magic will host the Bobcats Monday, November 16 at 7:00 pm EST. It will be Rashard Lewis’ first game of the season after serving a 10-game suspension.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)

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