02 April 2007

Two-For-One Special: Magic 95, Pacers 87 and Timberwolves 105, Magic 104

I hope you can forgive me for not updating at all this weekend. I spent some time with family and was away from the Magic, at least for a bit.

Owning It

The most encouraging part about beating the Pacers on Friday wasn't the playoff implications; rather, it was the fact that we actually beat someone we were supposed to beat. We needed that win, especially after the debacle in Boston, and we did a good job of getting it.
There are two key stories coming out of this game. First, Grant Hill can still play. More importantly, his style of play is well suited to this struggling team. Facing an offensive drought in the third quarter, Hill repeatedly took the ball to the basket and got fouled. All too often, our young players are content to take jump shots when the team is winning, even if the shots aren't falling. Hill set an example by playing aggressively, but not being overly aggressive and sloppy. Perhaps the best way to describe Hill at his best is 'efficient': he scored 22 points while only taking 10 shots for an incredible 2.2 points-per-shot ratio. He also only turned the ball over once. In short, when Hill plays the way he did against the Pacers, the Magic are usually in good shape.
The second story is the following: Trevor Ariza is more important than anyone on this team not named Dwight Howard. Yes, Grant Hill played better than Ariza did in this game and is the better player overall, but he's also 13 years older and well past his prime. Defensively, Ariza is polished and only getting better. He averages about one steal per game, but that doesn't tell the whole story. He frustrates the hell out of opposing players and forces them to use all their energy trying to escape him, then he attacks them on the offensive end and blows right by them, often resulting in a thunderous slam. The way he changes games is remarkable and I'm not being facetious when I say that he could be a future all-star, or at least a dunk contest participant. Why not? With a consistent jump shot and more playing time, he's at least Gerald Wallace. No joke.

Blowing It
Brian Schmitz likened Sunday's loss to the Timberwolves to Wednesday's loss to the Celtics. It's hard to argue with that comparison. Both opponents are under .500, both opponents got out to early leads, both opponents were hot from three-point range, both games went into overtime, and both games involved missed shots by Jameer Nelson that could have won them. I want to be a half-full guy and say the Magic can at least be happy that they got back into those games after trailing, but it's impossible to be that way now because IT'S THE END OF THE SEASON. As Brian Hill said after the loss in Dallas, there's no such thing as a moral victory in the NBA. Fact: if the Magic had a killer instinct at all, they'd be 36-38 and riding a 5-game winning streak. Instead, they're 34-40 and demoralized heading into Wednesday's showdown with surging Toronto. Talk about your blown opportunities.

Blowing It Again
The recent run of missed clutch shots by Jameer Nelson piqued my curiosity; just how good is Nelson when it counts? Thank goodness for 82Games, which is slowly becoming my favorite NBA site. Why? It's for total statheads such as myself. As you can see, Jameer isn't as clutch as his game-winner against Sacramento would lead us to believe. He shoots just .327 in what that site calls clutch situations - fewer than 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter or overtime, neither team ahead or behind by more than 5 points. Summarily, it's time for Brian Hill to reconsider his clutch strategy of giving Nelson the ball. Brian Schmitz agrees.

The most frustrating thing about the whole situation is that it's no longer a matter of playing well enough to win; we've got that part down. Now, it becomes a matter of showing some killer instinct and putting opponents away when they're down. Grant Hill did it against Indiana by getting to the rim. Let's hope this team can follow his example in a metaphoric sense over the final 8 games of the season and into the playoffs, Rony Seikaly-willing.

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