Opening Statements: Wizards at Magic, Game 65
Each next game is a chance for the Wizards to prove that they’re for real… Or that they are full of sh… hot air. Especially tonight’s game against the third-worst team in the East (and in the NBA), but a potentially dangerous team (to the Wizards) either way.
In early December 2013, the Wizards routed the Magic by 18 points in D.C. to pull to an even .500 (9-9) for the first time all season (and since they were 2-2 in 2009-10). That evening, Nene son’d the since departed, and always portly, Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Victor Oladipo also showed his juice with a vicious dunk.
A late-February Wizards win over Orlando, once again in the District, wasn’t as easy to come by. An 11-0 Magic run in the third quarter kept them within six points but the Wizards answered by closing out the period with their own 7-0 run. In the fourth, Orlando hung around closer than comfortable but never got within eight points. Al Harrington showed his old team that he still had plenty left in the cupboard … even though he did miss a dunk.
Teams: Wizards at Magic
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Amway Center, Orlando, FL
Radio: WFED-AM 1500
Spread: Wizards favored by 5 points.
Wizards tickets … anyone?
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Q #1: In Jacque Vaughn’s second season, Orlando is at least on track to best last season’s record (currently 4.4% better in terms of winning percentage). Is that enough?
Have the Magic shown enough improvement under Vaughn while continuing to be “bad by design” in order to get a top pick in 2014?
@shattertheglass: The Magic have no intentions on replacing Vaughn as coach, especially after Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price are the only players added to a team that won 20 games last season. Both Vaughn and general manager Rob Hennigan were well aware of the rebuilding efforts that were going to be necessary to make the team a playoff contender, even in the Eastern Conference. Orlando even bought-out the contract of its starting power forward, Glen Davis, immediately after the trade deadline expired. Team brass has patience and Vaughn will have some time to develop his players, but next season, if they aren’t in contention for the playoffs, he could be on the hot seat. At times the team has thrived—Orlando defeat Oklahoma City and the Pacers in consecutive games last month—so Vaughn should have one more full season to prove himself.
Q #2: The Magic are slated to have a ton of cap space this summer, especially if Jameer Nelson’s non-guaranteed contract is maneuvered in some sense. But what will they do with it?
At some point, they will need some quality vets to pair with all those promising kiddos…. BUT, you never want to commit too much money to said vets, which thusly would limit the Magic to second- and third-tier options. What’s the ideal here (and do any particular free agents stand out as targets)? Do you more see them trying to make a free agent splash (via signing or trade) in the summer of 2015 instead?
@shattertheglass: The Magic have showed patience in free agency over the last few seasons, but also have an owner willing to spend money. While Orlando is one of the newer franchises in the league, celebrating its 25th anniversary this season, it has been a major player in free agency throughout its history, nearly drawing Tim Duncan away from the Spurs in 2000, who almost signed a six-year $67.5 million deal. Orlando has also spent big money on Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, Horace Grant, and Rashard Lewis.
The 2014 NBA free agent class doesn’t have the franchise altering player the team is looking for, however, unless players actually opt out of their deals.
The same sentiments that apply to Vaughn will also apply in free agency. The Magic have the lure of a young core, with Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo, plus the attraction of no state income tax. The combination will help Orlando become a real factor during the summer of 2015, when players such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kyrie Irving become available.
Q #3: Looking back, could the Dwight Howard fiasco have worked out better for Orlando? Harkless and Vucevic are so solid. Afflalo will still be a trade asset this summer. The Magic will have two lottery picks in a great 2014 draft (likely)—their own and the “worse” pick between Denver and New York’s selections. (Not to mention future first rounders from the 76ers and Lakers.)
@shattertheglass: Dealing the best center of his generation is always going to be a difficult choice for any organization, but evaluating how the Magic fared is still an incomplete process, as the draft 2014 NBA Draft will really dictate if the team truly improved.
Nikola Vucevic, a center that was basically a throw-in from Philadelphia to complete the deal, has been nearly as effective on the offensive end replacing Howard, but he’s no where near the defensive player. Since joining the Magic, Vucevic has posted a double-double in 62.4 percent of his appearances, but has blocked just 123 shots in 125 games.
When Howard was anchoring the paint, he was able to make up for any lapses on the defensive end from his Magic teammates, resulting in three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards… Vucevic is not the same. Opponents are shooting 54 percent at the rim against Vucevic, the same percentage as Danny Green.
Q #4: Last time out (Feb. 25), Orlando played Washington pretty tough. They are not a bad team, nor poorly coached, they just lack a lot of discipline that comes with time. What do they need to do to challenge Washington this game?
@shattertheglass: The key for the Magic tonight will be patrolling the 3-point line. Washington shot 10-for-16 from 3-point range (62.5%) last time, and Trevor Ariza connected on all five of his attempts from beyond the arc.
The Wizards (38.6%) are the second best long-range shooting team in the NBA, trailing only San Antonio, while the Magic are surrendering an average of 8.1 3-point field goals each game and opponents are shooting 37.3 percent from downtown against them.
Q #5: Who (or what) has been the most disappointing this season? Who (or what) has been the most pleasant surprise?
@shattertheglass: The biggest surprise has been the ability of rookie Victor Oladipo to play point guard. The Magic selected Oladipo with the second overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but it was believed he would be the shooting guard on the team. The only place on the roster occupied by veterans is the back court, with point guard Jameer Nelson and shooting guard Arron Afflalo. Orlando isn’t going to sacrifice any minutes for Afflalo, as he is averaging a team-high 19.6 points per game and is shooting 42.8 percent from 3-point range.
Oladipo strictly played shooting guard during his three years at Indiana, but has developed into a viable point guard when Nelson has either been hurt or on the bench. The 6-foot-4 Oladipo is averaging 4.0 assists per game. If he inherits the point guard position, Oladipo will need to cut down on the 3.4 turnovers he’s averaging a night.
On the disappointing side, the Magic haven’t been able to close games. Five times, the team has been able to force overtime, but prevailed just once. In games decided by five points or fewer, Orlando has posted a 4-12 record. While the Magic aren’t a pushover at the Amway Center, compiling a 15-17 home record, J.J. Hickson said what many teams are probably thinking, that the Magic are a team that opponents should beat each night, and that mentality has to change for Orlando to truly rebuild.