Orlando is Winning With Grit, Effort and Determination

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

We know the Magic can win they shoot the ball well.

Any team can win games when they are shooting the ball well.

The problem for the Magic over the past two is that they are not shooting the ball well. They’re not getting into a good rhythm on offense. On some possessions, their superstar, Dwight Howard doesn’t even touch the ball and the Magic wind up having to settle for low-percentage jump shots.

To be fair, the Magic did shoot the ball well in the second half against Utah and in the fourth quarter against Portland. The Magic scored 104 points in their win over the Jazz on (largely thanks to going 31-of-41 from the free throw line). The Magic still rank fifth in offensive efficiency and have the third-best effective field goal percentage in the NBA (53%). In fact, during Orlando’s toughest stretch of the season, when they lost three out five games, they only failed to score over 100 points once (a 104-86 loss to the Heat on December 17).

Over the past two games, Orlando’s offense has struggled right from the beginning of the game and the Magic have had to find other ways to win. The Magic have relied on rebounding and defense, two things that the Magic are usually among the NBA’s best at doing, but have struggled with in the month of December.

Orlando has to grind out victories over two playoff-caliber teams, winning Saturday night against Portland, 92-83 and Monday night against Utah, 104-99.

The Magic held the Blazers to an eFG% of just 39.1% on Saturday night while holding the Jazz to just 44.3%. In both cases, the Magic did not shoot the especially well, but did an excellent job of getting to the free throw line.

In both games, Orlando won the battle inside. They outrebounded both the Blazers and the Jazz. Against the Blazers, Orlando had an impressive offensive rebounding percentage of 32.5% and outrebounded the Blazers 54-to-35. Against Utah, who is a very good team in the paint and rebounds the ball well, the Magic outrebounded the Jazz 41-to-38 and allowed the Jazz to score just to score just 28 points.

The team has been in a better mood after the last two games in postgame press conferences than he has at any other time this season. Ditto for Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy.

“I was really happy with our guys and if we continue to play with this kind of focus and intensity then we’re going to be in pretty good shape. I was very happy with them and very proud of the way they played.”

I got a chance to catch up with Vince Carter and asked him about Orlando’s gritty performance.

“When all else fails, defense. I think our defense really helped us, us being able to get the free throw, rebounding, getting extra shots – it helped us.”

Vince Carter knows just how important it is to do the little things even when the Magic aren’t playing well.

“If we weren’t rebounding, weren’t getting extra possessions, we’d be on the other end of those games.”

The defense and rebounding all starts with Dwight Howard. The reigning Defensive Players of the Year has been as good as ever lately. Howard closed down the paint in both games. Joel Pryzbilla only managed to get two shots off against Howard. Przybilla isn’t much of a scorer, but this is impressive because Howard paid a lot of extra attention to Portland’s talented, Power Forward, LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge scored just 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting in 31 minutes, mostly thanks to Howard’s help defense.

The Jazz only took 28 shots at the rim and made just 11 of them. Utah managed just 28 points in the paint. Howard blocked 4 shots against Portland and 5 against Utah, but altered several more in each game.

Not only have the Magic done an excellent job of rebounding the ball and defending, but they have come out with a lot of energy and have made a lot of impressive hustle plays. Rashard Lewis came over on help defense to swat a shot attempt from Carlos Boozer. Both J.J. Redick and Jason Williams have chased loose balls in the stand over the past two games. Matt Barnes played with a sore left wrist. Marcin Gortat and Anthony Johnson gave the Magic great effort in limited minutes.

It’s been two gritty, team efforts in the last two game and the Magic have picked up two victories against playoff-caliber teams.

If Orlando can keep this effort up, imagine just how good they can play when they are shooting as well as they normally do.

Truly great teams fight through adversity and can win games in any situation.

The Magic may be on the verge of becoming one of those teams.

(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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