Posted by Royce Young
If we've learned anything this NBA season it's when a collection of talented players come together, it takes some time for them to start playing well together. We saw it as the Heat went through some growing pains. And we're seeing it again with the revamped Orlando Magic.
Orlando made some risky changes in personnel over the past week and dropped their first two after adding Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson. Not only did they drop the first two, but they struggled scoring the ball and looked generally out of sync. This is after the Magic lost eight of nine with the only win being over the lowly Clippers. In other words, people started panicking. Or at least sweating.
But against the Spurs Thursday night, the machine actually started working together. Things started clicking. The team started gelling.
The Magic rocked the Spurs 123-101 behind 29 points from Dwight Howard, ending San Antonio's 10-game win streak. This is the Spurs team that had started the season 25-3, which equals what the 1995-96 Bulls started. So this wasn't against the Clippers against. This was against a legit title contender.
And Orlando looked darn good doing it. Howard had the 29, but six other players scored in double-figures. Arenas had 14 points, nine rebounds and six rebounds. Turkoglu 11 points and dished out six assists. Jason Richardson chipped in 15. Let me add that up real quick: That's 40 points from the new trio. That's good. The new pieces looked in rhythm and comfortable for the first time since they joined the team.
The Magic had the things working that made them such a dynamic team over the past few seasons. The drive and kick worked to perfection, Howard commanded double-teams in the post and passed out to open shooters and here's the thing - the shooters knocked down the shots. The Magic went 13-25 from 3 and shot nearly 60 percent overall.
Here's the thing though: Maybe folks shouldn't get ahead of themselves over this game. The Spurs were coming off a game the night before against the Nuggets and Gregg Popovich almost seemed content losing the game halfway through the third quarter. And when good teams are playing great like the Spurs are, it's hard to keep that level every night. So before we all start declaring the Magic fixed and ready to contend again, maybe we should step back a second.
Consider this: No Spurs starter played more than 30 minutes with Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan only playing 20 each. The entire fourth quarter was basically a battle of the benches with the Orlando second unit playing well and holding the double-digit lead. San Antonio was fine with losing this game. The Magic though, played like they had something to prove.
There's no denying what we saw from Orlando. They had the scoring, they played tremendous defense and Howard performed perfectly inside working in tandem with Brandon Bass. The question is what happens in a tight game late in the fourth. Can Arenas take over and create shots like he did Thursday? Will Richardson and Turkoglu provide all that extra offense? Will Howard have the room to work like he did in this one? I don't think we have answers to those questions quite yet.
Still though, beating the Spurs by 22 is impressive no matter the circumstance. It's obvious that the Magic are starting to figure themselves out a bit. Amazing what a few actual practices together can do.