Magic-Pacers: Rabbit Out Of a Hat, Indeed. Orlando Squeaks Past Indiana

Jack FoustContributor IDecember 15, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic coaches against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA game at Oracle Arena on December 5, 2009 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic returned home Monday to face the Pacers after logging back-to-back loses at the hands of Utah and Phoenix.

After two embarrassing loses—notably Amar’e Stoudemire’s dunk during the last few minutes in the fourth quarter—the Magic wound up showing the blue and white faithful what they’re capable of.

An embarrassing win.

With a final score of 106-98, this was one of the quintessential, “the stats don’t tell the entire story,” games. 

If you had simply looked at the box score, things might not seem so bad: Orlando had more rebounds, more fast breaks, they went to the line way more often (35 attempts compared to Indy’s 10), and had more production from the Magic bench.

This may show the statistics of a team that had a fairly decent shot to win, but on the court, Orlando had basically sand bagged for a good three quarters, trailing Indiana in every quarter but the fourth.

Dwight Howard managed to rack up 21 points, 23 boards, and four blocks, and he went to the line a whopping 11 times, going 13-22 from the charity stripe. 11 times at the line? Was he playing against the Oakland Raiders?

Big men Roy Hibbert and Jeff Foster might as well have been at this point. After an under-sized, underweight Hibbert couldn’t stop Howard, it was up to Jeff Foster to play the role of the enforcer and ardent Hack-a-Howard disciple.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

They each split minutes (15 each), and both players racked up at least four fouls, and yet, Howard still prevailed at the rim and did pretty decent while he was at the line.

But this was about all that went right for the Magic. Yes, 'Shard hit some good three-pointers along with Reddick, and the matchup between Hansbrough and Anderson wasn't even a match at all.

Sorry, Pacers fans, but the Magic faithful were expecting the boys coming home to bring the beats. They didn't deliver.

The things that went right were largely out of Orlando's hands; It was Indiana that was hitting their jumpers, and it was Indiana that went cold when it mattered. Granted, the Magic defense got a bit better, but only slightly. The Pacers still got plenty of wide open looks but simply failed to make their baskets.

The main problem with Orlando’s game tonight was undoubtedly the defense, top to bottom. At the individual level, Jason Williams, Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus, and Matt Barnes all had defensive issues. At the team level, the Magic were totally unable to defend from the perimeter, leading to a dramatic increase in the Pacers overall shooting percentage.

Jason Williams did his best impersonation of a mannequin, going completely scoreless and was even worse when defending T.J. Ford. This game, more than any other this season, really displayed J-Will’s age and his lack of energy on the defensive side of the ball.

Even worse, Anthony Johnson—roughly his age-contemporary—was able to prove himself as a perfectly capable ball handler and scorer, which makes Jameer Nelson’s return to play even more interesting to see whether not Williams drops a notch down the depth chart.

Failure to contain forwards Troy Murphy, and Mike Dunleavy Jr., along with guard T.J. Ford, was downright embarrassing. For lack of a better phrase, Dunleavy, at least for spurts of the Orlando game, was “on fire” with 26 points and four rebounds. Ford had very little interference in his ability to get open and land a quick, open jumper.

But just how good was Indy’s shooting this game? After all, it is the Pacers, and they weren’t 8-13 coming into this game for nothing.   

On average, the Indiana Pacers shoot somewhere around 30-33 percent; tonight they jumped an entire 10 percent on the night at 47.7 percent. Considering that Orlando prided itself on its defense last year, this kind of shooting increase—especially from a below .500 team—is totally unacceptable for a team that’s vying for a championship.

After watching this game and expecting so much more from a team that should’ve been fired up for a homecoming game, I was instead disappointed, and found myself thinking over a series of “ifs”—and not liking where they’re going.

If the play that Orlando’s exhibited tonight continues, then this home streak the Magic are on could turn sour as they host former Magic power forward, Hedo Turkoglu, and the offensive-minded Toronto Raptors.

If this lack of defense, few rebounds by players not named Dwight Howard, along with poor offensive decisions from Superman—notably his rudimentary low post scoring and inability to consistently deal with the double-team—continues, the Magic have no shot of getting back to the finals.