After beating the Los Angeles Lakers last night, the Orlando Magic have declared Monday "Spirit Day".
That's probably a good way to sum up the feelings of Magic fans after beating Dwight Howard, who went 9-for-21 from the free throw line last night in yet another poor performance from the Lakers to begin their highly anticipated 2012-13 campaign.
I won't go on about that game because the folks at SB Nation's Orlando Pinstriped Post have the entire post-game statistical analysis and jubilant reaction covered in their storystream for the game - complete with Glen Davis' block on Pau Gasol - but suffice it to say that the big question for us is what that performance means for the Golden State Warriors when they host the Magic tonight.
For insight, I turned to Orlando Pinstripe Post editor Evan Dunlap and contributing writer Ajeeta Khanna to get their thoughts on the big win in L.A., what's going right for them so far this season, and their rebuilding process.
Q&A with Orlando Pinstriped Post
1. It's obviously a rebuilding year for the Magic but they are close to .500 at home and just came off a big win against the Lakers in LA last night. Is there a common theme in the Magic's wins so far this year that was evident in last night's game? If not, what do you think California fans who otherwise haven't paid close attention to the Magic might be able to take away from that game?
Ajeeta Khanna: Jameer Nelson has been banged up a bit, but when he's on the court, the team is 5-4. It's obvious that this team won't win games without his presence. He's an integral part of the Orlando Magic's offense.
I can't exactly pinpoint the trend because this team has been somewhat uncoordinated. Out of the sixteen games the Magic have played, Orlando has trailed in the first half 13 times this season. Slow first halves have become a trend for the Magic, without a doubt. Last night against the Lakers, the Magic were tied at 52 apiece for the first half. If anything, I would say that Dwight Howard's former teammates were pissed off (especially Nelson) and just wanted to show that the team can compete against Dwight Howard. I say that about Nelson referring back to his near altercation with Howard a while ago (via http://www.hoopsworld.com/
2. What feels better for Magic fans: watching a 40-point fourth quarter to upset the Lakers in LA, getting a road win against a quality opponent, Glen Davis getting up for a big block on Gasol, Jameer Nelson having a big game back in the lineup, or simply the dominant storyline of Howard contributing to his team's own demise with 9-for-21 free throw shooting? (From a Warriors fan perspective, I'll just go with watching the Lakers lose)
And of course, the last one about Dwight Howard go nine-of-21 from the free-throw line. That just goes to show how he hasn't changed in a new environment. He even hired a free-throw shooting coach right before the lockout and still didn't improve. It just proves that for the 800+ games he has played, he will forever remain a poor free-throw shooter.
3. Both of our teams have former point guards as inexperienced head coaches (Mark Jackson just crossed the 82-game mark on Saturday, for whatever that's worth). Evan wrote a commentary the other day about the tension of Jacque Vaughn looking to play vets to win vs. playing the young guys for the sake of development. Overall, what is the feeling among Magic fans about how well Vaughn is doing as a novice coach in a rebuilding situation?
AK: Really tough question to answer on behalf of Magic fans. But if I could answer for them, I'd have to say Jacque Vaughn is doing a pretty good job for the personnel he has. He's making most of what he can and for what it's worth, it seems like he's having a positive impact on Glen 'Big Baby' Davis. The difference is the Magic are not losing like the Detroit Pistons or the Washington Wizards (click here for more on that: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/
4. Although they're in the midst of a rebuilding year, Orlando has been a more efficient shooting team than their opponents and are one of the best defensive teams in the league in terms of opponent shooting efficiency (eFG%). What would you say is going well for the team in that regard?
AK: Offensively, they're more efficient when they move the ball, that's for sure. Against the Lakers last night, Orlando had 34 team assists, marking their season-high. The offense has been simple plays as Jacque Vaughn would say along the lines of "find the open man."
For now though, Orlando has been playing pretty good team defense. They've been clogging the paint quite a lot. Right now they rank number one in opponent free-throw percentage, and their opponents' three-point field goal percentage is ranked at number seven.
Evan Dunlap: Orlando's had some good luck defensively up until a few recent lapses against the Spurs and Nets; in those games, Orlando's opponents hit 11 three-pointers each, many of them open. Against San Antonio, it was Manu Ginóbili doing the damage, which is inexcusable. But in the Brooklyn game, Gerald Wallace hit five threes, tying a career-best. Coach Jacque Vaughn said he didn't gameplan for Wallace to hit so many threes, as he was instead more focused on shutting down Deron Williams' drives to the basket.
But luck still figures into Orlando's overall defensive success: Magic opponents are shooting 69.1 percent from the foul line, by far the best figure in the league. "Free throw defense" isn't really, you know, real, so once that number normalizes a bit then the Magic's defense will regress.
5. Speaking of defense, there was some chatter prior to the draft that Moe Harkless might have been on the Warriors' short list, either at #7 or in the event they traded down. But Evan wondered recently whether Harkless should be removed from the starting lineup. How well is Harkless adjusting to the NBA as a rookie?
AK: I don't think he has adjusted entirely. Offensively, he hasn't contributed much, but defensively, he has been pretty nice to watch. It's always interesting to see him go against guys like Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Metta World Peace, etc.
Otherwise, he has shown glimpses of who he can be at his position, defensively: he's a prolific rebounder and a shot blocker. He's not 100% that much I know, so it's really hard to tell how he's going to blossom or what kind of impact he will have on an NBA level. He just went through surgery for a sports hernia a little over a month ago. Stuff like that (for any athlete, really) takes a lot of time to heal.