1. Hey, Remember Us? Magic Make Their Point
ORLANDO -- After the Orlando Magic's 104-95 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy peered out from the dais in the interview room at the gleaming new Amway Center. He shook his head, then marveled at the swell of media populating the room.
"You play the Heat and it's like double the crowd in here," Van Gundy said. "It's like they're the only team in the league."
Van Gundy's wry indignation was understandable. Despite the fact that his team strung together consecutive 59-win campaigns over the past two seasons, the Magic entered training camp as an afterthought in the minds of many. The Boston Celtics were the defending conference champions, and the Miami Heat were the anointed favorites.
Yet on Thanksgiving morning, the Magic (10-4) sit only one-half game behind the Celtics for the conference's best record, on pace for -- you guessed it -- another 59-win season.
Whether it's a lack of sex appeal, their relatively small market, or a glib skepticism that a team that relies on the three can't win a title, the Magic have remained under the radar, despite their lengthy résumé of achievement.
"We're one of the teams that's not talked about, and it's fine with us," Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. "We understand in the East right now, everybody is talking about Miami -- whether it's good or bad -- and Boston.
"They get more attention than us, but there's nothing we can do about it."
A few seasons ago -- back when the Celtics has just assembled their big 3, the grizzled Pistons were still competent and the Cavaliers were riding LeBron James, -- the Magic assumed the role as the up-and-comers in the East. Dwight Howard was still a pup on the block. Van Gundy surrounded him with shooters, and a system was born.
Van Gundy might look like an unmade bed, but the schemes he has implemented in Orlando over the past few years are crisp and clean. Howard and Nelson have been the foundation of the Magic's system.
On Wednesday night, the Magic's lethal big-small combination executed the playbook with precision as Orlando racked up 104 points in a methodical game that featured only 90 possessions -- an outstanding rating of 115.6 against Miami's fourth-ranked defense.
The first principle of Orlando's offense is to attack. That's Nelson's function, whether it's a dribble-drive with a kickout to a shooter, or via a pick-and-roll. Nelson was brilliant against Miami, racking up a career-high 14 assists to go along with 17 points before his unceremonious ejection for mouthing off to Eddie House.
"Jameer did a great job of attacking and probing, trying to find spots in their defense to score or either pass out to threes or look inside," Howard said.
Nelson can be a frustratingly schizophrenic point guard. Sometimes he's a pass-first guard; at other times, he's a single-minded scorer -- and once in a while he chooses the first when the game demands the second, and vice versa. Nelson is not one of the league's dynamo passers and can occasionally be stunted by aggressive coverages on the pick-and-roll, something Miami did effectively in its 95-70 wallop of Orlando in the teams' first meeting.
"The first time we played them, Jameer kind of got stuck on the pick-and-rolls," Howard said. "He wasn't attacking like he needed to. I told him tonight to be aggressive. '[The Heat] are going to get out early and show with their bigs, but you should be able to get around them."
Howard's pep talk was prophetic. Time and again on Wednesday, Nelson would squirt to the left or right of a showing Miami big man, turn the corner and make a play or reach the cup. He found his big men, Howard and Brandon Bass, for eight of his assists, and connected on six dimes with his perimeter shooters.
"I just need to get into the paint and be aggressive," Nelson said. "When the ball gets into the paint, that's the heart of the defense."
The Magic ripped the Heat's heart out after Miami made its run midway through the fourth quarter, at one point taking a 88-87 lead. But then Nelson took over, cutting his way through the Heat's defense. During a three-minute stretch before getting tossed, Nelson scored eight points and assisted on a huge J.J. Redick jumper that gave the Magic a six-point lead with 3:12 remaining.
Redick seems to be emerging from the brutal slump he's endured over the first month of the season. He added 20 points on Wednesday and credited Van Gundy's system for continuing to feed him the good looks he and other slumping shooters, such as Rashard Lewis, need to get their strokes going.
"They system is going to allow us to get shots," Redick said. "We have the big fellas inside and Jameer penetrating the way he's been penetrating the last few games, we're going to get looks."
The aforementioned big fella posted some impressive totals as well, finishing with 24 points and 18 points. In their first game against Miami, the Magic fed the ball into Howard down on the block, at which point the offense grinded to a halt.
"Tonight, interestingly, [Howard] scores more points and gets more rebounds and we didn't call straight post-up plays," Van Gundy said. "We didn't just let [our players] stand and stare at him."
As orthodox as Van Gundy's system is, it's this kind of flexibility that's enabled the Magic to consistently rank among the league's most efficient offenses. If defenses refuse to be drawn in by Howard in the post, then put him in pick-and-rolls. If the opposition is running your shooters off the line, then put them in motion -- something the Magic did beautifully on Wednesday. And if your point guard is finding resistance up top, make the defense pay for their aggressive coverage. Once the Magic's shooters find their stroke, the offense will return to its rightful place in those ranks.
So far as the Heat go, Van Gundy simultaneously rejected any notion that his team's win over Miami was more meaningful -- but at the same time, couldn't resist taking another dig at the undue attention his former organization has received.
"You would think we were in the NBA Finals with all the people here," Van Gundy said. "Everybody in the media is so interested in the Heat, but I just think it's another team."
Kevin Arnovitz is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
2. Wade And LeBron Not Helping Each Other
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There were six minutes left and the Heat were ahead by one point.
Dwyane Wade had just scored two baskets and assisted on two others by baiting the defense and finding the open man. The Heat had eliminated the Magic's once sizeable lead.
The horn sounded and LeBron James tore off his warmup and bounced onto the floor. The crowd at Amway Center was worried, so worried they forgot to boo James as they had been doing all night.
So this is it. Wade and James on the same team and ready to take control of a close road game against an elite team like they've done so often in their careers. When they were on that stage back in July it was these moments they were dreaming of, eventually in June it was assumed.
To read more from Windhorst, click here.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Wednesday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
4. Evans Cleans The Glass For Raptors
Reggie Evans grabbed 22 rebounds for the Raptors to help defeat the 76ers. Evans tied Chris Bosh for the second-highest rebound total in one game in Raptors history. The only player to pull down more than 22 rebounds in a game for Toronto was Donyell Marshall (24 in a loss at Chicago on Feb. 17, 2004).
5. Extreme Behavior
Shaquille O'Neal, Celtics: In a turn back the clock moment, Shaq went off for 25 points and 10 rebounds to lead Boston past New Jersey. It was the 432nd time in his career that O'Neal posted at least 25 and 10.
Brandon Jennings, Bucks: Talk about a game to forget. Not only did Jennings spend the night shooting bricks (1-for-10 from the field), but he also let Mo Williams hit the game-winner at the buzzer in a two-point loss to the Cavs.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"We always have fun playing against each other. We are good friends off the court. But on the court we always like to battle."
-- Jazz guard Deron Williams on playing against the Hornets' Chris Paul
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Spurs Ruin Loves' Big Night
8. Bulls Work Overtime For W
Playing without Taj Gibson (right ankle) on the second night of back-to-back games, the Bulls started the game with no energy. They looked lifeless throughout most of the first half as the Suns built a 23-point lead and tried to run away with the game. Led by Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and a resurgent Kyle Korver, the Bulls offense reappeared. The Bulls picked up the defensive pressure and forced Phoenix into several crucial mistakes in the fourth quarter. As the game headed into overtime and beyond, Rose and Noah took over the contest. The pair made the play of the night when Noah fed Rose a backdoor pass that Rose put in to send the game into the second overtime, then forced their collective will on the Suns until the end. Given the circumstances, this was the Bulls' best win of the year.
To read more from Friedell, click here.
9. Mavs Are Accepting Their Roles
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Dallas Mavericks are a strange team to figure out, what with their curious home sluggishness offset by high-energy road outputs, and none more impressive than Wednesday's 111-103 come-from-behind victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at a rocking Ford Center.
Dallas did the defense thing again in the fourth quarter, holding Kevin Durant and Co. to 22 points, nine field goals and 39.1 percent shooting. Meanwhile, the Mavs' offense somehow found the strength on the second night of a back-to-back to get hot at the right time and unload 36 points. They dropped 32 in the fourth on Tuesday to slip past the Detroit Pistons.
Now at 10-4 overall and 5-1 on the road, what appears to be unfolding here, through the fits and starts of grating, offensive stagnation and take-notice, lock-down defense, is a veteran team that genuinely seems to like one another.
On top of that, they also seem to be buying into what their sometimes quirky, sometimes maddening head coach with the buzz cut is selling.
And that's a concept of togetherness, strength and support through numbers. Apropos for Thanksgiving, perhaps, but when this team sits down in San Antonio for its holiday meal, it just might feel a little like family.
To read more from Caplan, click here.
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