Let’s start with the simple: The Magic are bad. I don’t care if they arrived at MSP International with a 2-1 record and a Big Baby Davis MVP Campaign in full swing. By trading away Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson and getting nothing but Arron Afflalo of value in return, the Magic are a gutted roster headed straight to the lottery. Even with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love missing, the Wolves needed to win this game. Oh, and I didn’t even mention that Jameer Nelson, the Magic’s veteran point guard, was out with an injury. Nelson was replaced by former Purdue star and not good NBA player, E’Twan Moore. So yeah, this was a game the Wolves should win.
And they did win. Rather convincingly, in fact. It was a game of stages. The first stage was the 1st Quarter, when the Wolves played lockdown defense and hit enough shots to extend the lead to 25-12. Before Redick entered the game, and could at least do something to make the Wolves think a little bit on defense, it looked like the Magic would struggle to score 50. The second stage was the 2nd Quarter, when things were flipped on their head. Adelman made a line change and the second unit could not buy a basket. Beginning the second with 25 points, the Wolves would only score 1 point in the first 5:34 of the quarter, allowing the Magic to grind their way back in the game. The halftime score was disappointingly close with the good guys leading by just 4 points, having scored only 13 points in the quarter. The third stage was the first half of the 3rd Quarter before J.J. Redick entered the game. In those 5 minutes 27 seconds, the Wolves lead extended to 13 with them holding a 53-40 advantage. I worried about Redick entering the game, for two reasons: 1) He was getting himself open for good looks in the 1st Half, but his shots kept rimming out; and 2) He’s J.J. Redick. If you’ve ever seen him play, going back to his Duke days, you know that he doesn’t stay cold for four quarters.
Redick checked in and, sure enough, he got it going. Two times in short sequence, he came hard off a pick, pump faked, and calmly took one dribble to clear himself for a 20-foot swish. Beautiful stuff, if you enjoy a great shooter. A few possessions later, Redick again came flying off a pick, squared himself and fired another dagger–this time getting fouled in the process. And 1. After that was a pair of swishes, one from downtown, and the Magic were within striking distance; the score now at 62-55. [Seriously, this is what makes the NBA great–so many uniquely-talented geniuses, even on a bad team like Orlando’s. I’ve caught some heat on the interwebs for being an apologist of Post-Garnett Enigma X/Y/Z, but it all boils down to an appreciation for elite attributes, whether they are athleticism-based or skills. Redick was f#%*ing awesome to watch in the 3rd Quarter tonight. Back to the game…]
It wouldn’t get any closer than 7 points from that point forward. Stage 4 was the ass-kicking final 13:08 of action, begun by four consecutive Stiemsma baskets and pushed forward by smooth passes from Alexey Shved and brick-wall interior help D by Stiemer. The lead ballooned to 25 and Adelman emptied the bench. A Wolves win, and solid 3-1 record to start the year, was in hand.
* Derrick Williams played well — The rattled young forward played a brilliant opening quarter and was rewarded with playing time. His defensive effort and focus were there (and to be fair, this hasn’t been a problem area for him) and he combined efficient scoring (14 points on 5-10 shooting) with snappy, smart passes. His 1 assist does not do justice to the passes he was making throughout the game. I remain concerned about his shooting form; too many moving parts, hardly ever balanced, but his floor game was solid tonight. Williams was a team-best +24 in 30 minutes of action. He showed us something.
* Defensive Strategy — Two things stood out to me in the Wolves defensive strategy in this game. First, Brandon Roy defended the small forward–not the shooting guard. Britt Robson wrote about Roy’s defensive woes in the early part of the season and it’s natural to wonder if the knee problems render Roy a useless defender. Adelman didn’t waste time making adjustments. With the versatile Kirilenko slid over to the off-guard, where the Magic pose a greater threat with Arron Afflalo, Roy’s margin for error increased immensely on Josh McRoberts. Second, the guards are switching everything. So are Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham. The versatility of this roster, combined with its tactical brilliance from the sidelines, is flatout going to increase the win total. Switching screens is not something that every roster is able to do. It’s not something every coach thinks to do, or knows how to teach. The Wolves are doing it, four games in, and it’ll pay dividends when the Chris Paul’s and Ty Lawson’s of the world come to town.
* Brandon Roy = Andre Miller, 2.0? — Like any good patriot, I had my League Pass Broadband fired up on the laptop while watching last night’s election coverage on the tube. In the Nuggets game, I was watching Andre Miller do his old-man, huge-butt post game thing, where he violently backs down his man, usually looking to pass but sometimes looking to
get in a street fight battle for contact en route to a hoop and the harm. This is what I’ve noticed Brandon Roy doing in the early part of this season. On the perimeter, where speed rules in this NBA, Roy is not so effective. But down low, he has those Paul Pierce/Andre Miller-style, herky-jerky hesitation moves that can still get buckets. In the early going, his shot isn’t falling (he’s shooting 27 percent from the floor, through 4 games) but he’s racking up assists like a point guard. Throwing out that Toronto outlier, when he fell apart right away, he’s had games of 6, 7 and 9 assists (9 in tonight’s game; a team high). In Rubio’s absence, a playmaking passer is of utmost importance. Look for Adelman to run some sets for Roy on the block or the elbow.
Lots of good things in this game. Alexey Shved can pass, once he shakes out the jitters. Dante Cunningham goes after loose balls like Corey Brewer used to. What’d I miss?
Season Record: 3-1