27 March 2007

Streaky like Supergirl's Cat: Magic 94, Knicks 89

To say that last night's defeat of the Knicks was huge would be like saying the Empire State Building is tall; it'd be a gross understatement. At this point in the season, every game is monumentally important, especially for teams trying to squeeze into the playoffs.

That said, like Friday's win over New Jersey, the game was not pretty. The Orlando Magic got the shots they wanted on offense, shooting 52.1% for the game, but almost literally gave the game way by committing 20 turnovers, which lead to 24 Knicks points. Another similarity to the New Jersey game: Jameer Nelson got it done in the clutch. He scored 12 of his 22 points in the 4th quarter against the Nets and followed that up with the game-tying and go-ahead three-pointers in the 4th quarter against the Knicks.

Here's what worries me about Jameer: he only shows up in the clutch. Now maybe that wouldn't be so bad, but then he went and said this:

"My teammates know that I like to take the big shot in the games, so they found me."

While I admire Jameer's confidence, I think he's missing the point. As the point guard, it is his job to find his teammates and get them the ball in position to score, not the other way around. Hitting big shots makes up for it, but what about the first 45 or so minutes of a game? Nelson has failed to record more than 7 assists in a single game all season, and he's averaging just 4.1 per game. He's also shooting a career-low 43.8% from the field and committing 2.4 turnovers per game. Finally, his 5'10" frame makes it hard for him to defend opposing guards, forcing him to commit 2.8 fouls per game.

To me, those numbers indicate that Jameer Nelson is not fit to be a starting point guard in the NBA. He does not shoot well, nor does he distribute the ball effectively. He's shown that he can score in bunches, most clearly in the Magic's improbable come-from-behind win against the Spurs in January, in which he scored 31 points on 60% shooting. Thus, I have to conclude that Nelson should be brought off the bench and look to score against other teams' second units.

So then we have to wonder whom the Magic should start. Despite playing a key role in the win against New Jersey, Carlos Arroyo seems to have played his way out of the rotation. Keyon Dooling, who had been used primarily as a shooting guard before last week, was a capable distributor and defender, but shot poorly and is not suited as a starting point guard in the NBA. That leaves little-used Travis Diener, who only plays in garbage time and thus never faces top competition.

In other words, we need a point guard. That's a subject I'll address in a future entry.

The inconsistency of the Magic's point guard play mirrors the team's inconsistency, which can be charted like so:

Now take a look at the graph for the NBA's top team, the Dallas Mavericks:
The Mavericks haven't lost more than 4 consecutive games all season -- and those were their first 4 games. Further, since that first week of the season the Mavericks have lost just 5 games and no more than 2 straight. That's a mind-boggling accomplishment.

Understand that I'm not saying that the Magic are capable of winning 17 straight games, as the Mavericks did earlier this season. Rather, I'm saying that good teams play consistently and beat the teams they're supposed to beat, something the Magic haven't done this year. Consider that the Magic have lost to these bottom-feeding teams:
  • Thrice to Atlanta (27-45, .375)
  • Twice to Charlotte (26-45, .366)
  • Memphis (17-54, .239)
  • Milwaukee (25-44, .362)
  • Philadelphia (28-42, .400)
Yes, eight of the Magic's 38 losses this season have come against teams that are currently at .400 or worse. Do playoff teams lose such games? No.

I'll close with this thought: the Magic should make the playoffs. They have a comfortable remaining schedule and should win just enough games to get in, where they will play either Detroit or Cleveland in the first round. If they draw the Cavaliers, it would be an interesting series given the surprising fact that the Magic won two of the three games played between those teams this season. If they draw the Pistons, it would soon be a good time for the boys to work on their golf swings, because they have failed to beat the Pistons in three tries this season. They'll get another shot on April 11th.

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