08 April 2007

Bill Walton Would Be So Proud: Magic 116, Grizzles 89

Anyone who has watched a nationally televised NBA game in the past 15 years has heard color commentator and former NBA player Bill Walton say his catchphrase at least 28 times: Throw it down, big fella!

The Magic sure heeded Walton's advice last night in a big victory over the Grizzlies. Dwight Howard, who leads the league in dunks, got 9 slam opportunities against a team not interested in boxing out, defense, or anything else in particular. But it wasn't just Dwight getting in on the action; Trevor Ariza threw down a pretty reverse on a fast break after a great steal, Darko Milicic dropped a tomahawk after getting a beautiful pass from Hedo Turkoglu, Grant Hill wound back the clock and slammed a tomahawk down, and Tony Battie managed a nice two-handed stuff in traffic. Simply put, the Magic were scoring at will. Granted, it was against the league's worst team, but let me repeat: the Magic were scoring at will.

One can point to any number of reasons for tonight's offensive outburst: defensive disinterestedness on the part of the Grizzlies, several players just "feeling it" from the field, etc. But what interests me most is that the Magic were running hard and playing well in transition. I have to wonder how well this team would have fared this season if they adopted a run-and-gun style earlier, which would minimize the its deficiency at point guard because it wouldn't be working out of a set halfcourt offense. That said, some teams are able to dictate the pace of games and would be able to prevent the Magic from running: Miami, in particular, can force even the high-octane Suns into an ugly, grind-it-out defensive struggle. But with just six games left, it seems like it'd be as good a time as any to experiment with a more free-flowing style of play. What do the Magic have to lose? A playoff berth?


Yeah... about that. Despite the win, the Magic were unable to gain any ground on the New Jersey Nets for the 7th seed in the East, nor were they able to create any separation from the 9th-place Indiana Pacers. Both of those teams won their games last night and thus the playoff picture remains unchanged. Does that fact minimize the meaning of this game somehow?

The answer is, perhaps surprisingly, no. The Magic's past 3 losses were all soul-crushing: a double-OT loss to Boston, an OT loss to Minnesota, and a loss to Toronto in which the Magic lead by 13 after the first period. A game such as last night's can lift a team's spirits. It's not just that they won; it's that everything went their way. The easy dunks were not the only things that went right for Orlando: Dwight Howard banked in a free throw, Keyon Dooling hit jump shots at the closing seconds of both the first and third quarters, Grant Hill's dunk came during the waning seconds of the first half, and all twelve players scored.

What does the past tell us about how the Magic might perform tonight? Admittedly, not much. The Magic are 4-4 in games played subsequent to victories in which the margin of victory was 15 or greater. In the most recent case, the Magic lost at home to Chicago by 24 points after beating Milwaukee by 18, a turnaround of 42 points. As I documented in an earlier entry, the only constant in this Magic season has been consistent inconsistency.

Tonight's game against Milwaukee is of the utmost importance. Win big, big fellas.

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