10 April 2007

Blood in the Water: Magic 117, Bucks 94

As any longtime Magic fan can attest, there are just some things the Magic can't do: get out of the first round of the playoffs, draft well, hang on to the ball, and beat the Lakers. And although I wasn't aware of it before yesterday, there's another thing the Magic have difficulty with: winning in Milwaukee. Prior to last night's stomping of the Bucks in the Bradley Center, the Magic had lost 15 of their last 16 in that building and had not won there since 2002. They even lost there earlier this season when the Bucks were without Michael Redd, their best player. Talk about your house of horrors.

The Bucks offered little resistance to the Magic last night. I have to admit, however, that I was worried when Milwaukee made 7 of its first 8 shots to open the game, but that worry soon vanished when the Bucks got cold, failing to score a field goal for nearly the entire final 3:46 of the period until Lynn Greer (who?) made a jumper at the buzzer. Orlando, on the other hand, never seemed to cool off, tying a season-best for accuracy by shooting 62.5% from the floor for the game.

I'm sure cynics will try to downplay the impact of this win because Milwaukee was without three of its starters (Redd, Andrew Bogut, and Charlie Villanueva) and only had one player taller than 6'5", but at the risk of stating the obvious, a win is a win. The Magic are still in the thick of the playoff hunt, holding a 1.5 game advantage over Indiana for the 8th playoff spot in the East and trailing New Jersey by just .5 a game for the 7th spot. The playoffs are still very much possible for this team. Also consider that the Magic's only two losses this month game by a combined 4 points and you'll see that they have been playing much better lately. The Magic are playing well when it counts? You've got to be kidding.

Am I surprised that the Magic won? Moderately. I'm more encouraged than I am anything else. The Magic have dropped games to some pretty miserable teams this year, so seeing them come out and play hard against crappy competition was encouraging. They knew they had to win this game, which Brian Schmitz called a "must-win". And they did it without a great effort from veteran leader Grant Hill, who scored 7 points on just 3-of-8 from the field. Instead, Hedo Turkoglu continued his hot streak by scoring 25 points on a sizzling 10-of-15 from the floor. Darko Milicic, who had been playing in a fog, scored 11 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting performance to go along with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Jameer Nelson, whom I have criticized heavily in this blog, put together a fine game by scoring 12 points on 50% shooting, just the third time he has made over half his shots in a game since March 3rd. He also added a season-high 9 assists to raise his April average to 5.2 assists per game. Maybe this stretch will teach him that he doesn't need to shoot the ball for the Magic to be successful.

I think the following statistic sums up just how the Magic dominated last night: of the Magic's 50 made field goals, 12 of them were dunks. Milwaukee made 34 shots, only one of which was a dunk, and that came with under two minutes to play and both teams playing lackadaisically. Orlando now has 26 dunks in its past two games, a remarkably high total. Although I doubt that they'll be able to pick apart Detroit's defense on Wednesday night the way they've dismantled Milwaukee's and Memphis', they should have a great deal of confidence. Just look at Keyon Dooling here:

The intensity with which Dooling dunked in that photo is the sort of emotion everyone on this team needs to maintain if they are going to beat Detroit on Wednesday. The Pistons don't play soft.

Just ask Shaquille.

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