Magic 111, Thunder 88
News, notes and observations from Friday’s loss at Orlando.
- With four players shipped out and three players yet to report, Thunder coach Scott Brooks was forced to use 10 different lineups according to my count. And some of them looked like preseason units at best. Maybe even summer league. Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha and Cole Aldrich. Really? What can the Thunder possible do against the Magic with that mix and match bunch?
- Oddly enough, the team’s bench played better than the more decorated starters. Maynor was the distributor Russell Westbrook decided he didn’t want to be tonight. Cook provided the shooting Kevin Durant couldn’t. And Harden, with a strong all-around game, made yet another case to supplant Sefolosha as the starter.
- If you’re wondering whether the loss of a few teammates played a big factor in this one, Durant comes through with his opinion. “It’s real tough,” Durant said. “Those guys were like brothers to us here. Not to see them out there on the bench clapping for us, in the locker room speaking up, it’s tough.” Durant was then asked if their departures disrupted the flow of the team. “It felt a little different going out there and playing, not having our guys out there,” Durant said. “But hopefully next game we get back into the flow and be all right.”
- In my eyes, Dwight Howard spoiled a spectacular game by remaining in the game to ensure he got 40. I put most of the blame on Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who you otherwise will never hear me say a bad word about. Van Gundy should have taken Howard out of the game during a timeout with 2:27 left on the clock. Instead, they showed up the Thunder and showed little class. Dwight’s 40th point came on a lob pass from Hedo Turkoglu with exactly 2:00 left to play. The Magic were up 20. His basket put the Magic up 22.
- I doubt Howard and the Magic would have been so strident had Kendrick Perkins been on the court. I can’t wait to see Perk’s scowl.
- Speaking of, the trio of new players are expected to practice with the team Saturday and meet the media following the session. I’m told all three players were in OKC on Friday taking physicals. If all goes well, I’d expect to see Nazr Mohammed and Nate Robinson in uniform Sunday. Perkins is out at least a week with a left knee injury.
- Does this bit from Howard ease the sting of Howard’s monster game and boastful final bucket?
- Aldrich battled hard tonight. He might still have a long way to go. But I like the kids’ tenacity. He’s going to stick with it no matter how out-matched he might be. This was a good experience for him.
- Aldrich’s block on Earl Clark with 1:24 left to play was a good sign of Aldrich’s skills. It was a play where Aldrich looked beat by a much more athletic player. But Aldrich recovered and stuffed Clark with perfect timing. One thing I’m really impressed with is Aldrich’s length. It’s been well-documented. But when you see how he can alter or block a shot without getting that high off the ground, you have no choice but to have an appreciation for that ability.
- Wish Byron Mullens would have gotten some burn tonight.
- Serge Ibaka got the start at power forward…and fouled out in 18 minutes, mainly because he had to play center much of the night and try to contain Howard. That was a futile exercise. One minute after having to switch over to Howard after Nick Collison got the first crack at him, Ibaka was whistled for fouls on back-to-back defensive trips. Rough night. The good news is there aren’t many other Howard types on the schedule.
- He didn’t get many chances tonight, but when he did Ibaka showed his improving pick-and-pop game. He takes mid-range shots with confidence and is growing into a reliable option to replace Nenad Krstic in that respect. I don’t think we’ll see as much of a drop off as some would think. But there is a concern. Putting Ibaka in more on-ball screen situations will enhance his chances of fouling out quicker because of the risk of illegal screens. Someone will have to work with him there.
- Ibaka’s stone hands showed up again tonight. He bobbled passes on two straight possessions early in the first period, the first from Durant and the second from Westbrook. This could be an even bigger problem than before now that he’s starting.
- One last thing on Ibaka. His perimeter defense will be very interesting to watch. There are so many stretch 4s today that he could struggle. Tonight, Brandon Bass wasn’t as much of an issue because Bass isn’t ultra athletic or really a threat stroke it from the arc or take Ibaka off the dribble. Keep an eye on a potential Ibaka-Lamar Odom matchup Sunday.
- The medical staff was examining Sefolosha’s throat late in the first quarter. I have no idea why.
- The Thunder started the game 1-for-12 shooting the basketball.
- Harden’s aggressiveness has been really encouraging. He made two hard drives to the hoop in the first half before eventually using his dribble penetration to set up a few plays later on.
- I find it slightly odd that Howard outscored Durant and Durant out-rebounded Howard.
- A byproduct of Brooks going small to match up with Orlando nearly ended tragically. Midway through the second quarter, the Magic had a lineup of Gilbert Arenas, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, Turkoglu and Clark. When Van Gundy re-inserted Howard for Anderson, Durant, who was playing center, had to defend Howard. The look on Durant’s face as Howard walked back onto the court was priceless. As Howard strolled in his direction, Durant never took his eyes off Brooks and the bench. You could read his mind. ‘Uh, coach. Coach…COACH! DO YOU SEE THIS?” Seconds later, Collison came back in for Sefolosha. Durant got two defensive possessions against Howard, though. I don’t have to say it wasn’t pretty.
- The back-to-back 3s by Redick and Jameer Nelson were daggers. They pushed a 10-point deficit to 16 points. It was right then, with 5:30 remaining, that the Thunder knew there was nothing it could do defensively to stop these guys.
- Howard is now one technical foul away from being slapped with an automatic one-game suspension. He picked up his 15th tech this season when he took a backwards swipe at Collison’s head midway through the second quarter. It’s debatable whether Howard should have been ejected. It was as close to a punch as you will see.
- Collison’s body has to be sore after tonight. He took everything Howard had down low. The two pushed and grabbed and threw elbows and just fought all game. At one point, I thought they were really about to fight. Up next for poor Nick, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
- Orlando maybe should have tried to do something else at the deadline. Arenas is not the savior.
- After making 17 of 20 foul shots in OKC on Jan. 13, Howard made eight of 12 tonight. That’s 78 percent for a career 60 percent foul shooter.
- When Howard stepped to the stripe for a three-point play chance with 6:32 left in the third, the crowd erupted in chants of M-V-P. He damn near air-balled his attempt.
- Orlando has a nice building…and the biggest scoreboard in the NBA.
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