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What's Up With The Orlando Magic?

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After a couple of days off with the Orlando Magic set to visit the Fieldhouse Friday night, Ben Q. Rock from Third Quarter Collapse and I decided to swap Q and A's about the competion. Here are Ben's answers to my questions. Enjoy.

After stumbling out of the gate at 0-2, the Magic have won eight of their last nine games including four in a row. What has been making the Magic go during successful stretch of games?

BQR: In a word, defense. None of Orlando's big perimeter threats is shooting well overall--although Mickael Pietrus has been a welcome exception--so the team must rely on getting stops at the other end of the floor to keep them in games. It's tough for a team that depends on its shooters to spread the floor for its franchise center to win when it can't buy a bucket from the outside.

They've also had some come-from-behind victories that have showcased their mental toughness. Since blowing a 15-point, third-quarter lead lead to Memphis (!) on Halloween, the Magic have played with more focus and poise, especially on the road. Victories in Dallas (trailed by 15 in the third quarter) and in Charlotte (trailed by 9 in the second quarter) were a testament to that.

Stan Van Gundy seems to do his best work as a coach with his team under duress. Do you think he was secretly happy to have the 0-2 start grab his players' attention?

BQR: Stan has been quoted somewhere recently as saying something to the effect of, "If they're keeping score, I want to win." Based on that, I don't believe he was at all pleased with losing the season's first two games. I get the impression that Stan is like his brother Jeff in that he will always find something wrong with the team, even if it wins by 50. The difference is that Stan, although animated on the sidelines, does not appear to be nearly as neurotic as Jeff.

Dwight Howard is obviously the cornerstone of the franchise but he's still only 22 years old and prone to inconsistent production once in a while. At this stage in his development, what kind of improvement are you looking for from Superman this year?

BQR: Free throw shooting would be nice, yeah. He's shooting a career-low 53.9% from the stripe so far this season. As long as Howard continues to lay bricks at the line, he's going to draw comparisons to early Shaq as a young, gifted, physically dominant center who plays for Orlando. If Dwight maintained his rebound and block averages, and if he drew the same number of fouls, and converted on a mere 70% of his free throws, he'd average 2 more points per game. The fact that he's only 22 leaves me and plenty of other Magic fans with a lot of hope, and probably instills fear and/or awe in the rest of the NBA's fanbase.

Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere ad nauseum, Dwight's post moves lack refinement. He relies on sheer athleticism--not cerebrality--to get by defenders in the post. Eventually, he'll need to upgrade his arsenal beyond a quick spin move. Or, he could learn to shoot better from the outside. Dude has no touch on his jumper. In any case, he needs to become more versatile offensively.

I have no complaints about his defense.

What are your thoughts on the supporting cast surrounding Howard? Any concerns?

BQR: Dwight's immediate supporting cast--which is to say, the rest of the starting lineup--is solid. What I worry more about is the bench. Your boy Anthony Johnson is playing as though in a fog as Jameer Nelson's backup, and he's the only other option at that position. Keith Bogans is in the last year of his contract and probably won't return next season. Tony Battie, although he's impressed in his return from shoulder surgery, is not the long-term answer as Howard's backup in the paint. Brian Cook is the other veteran, and he's played 7 garbage-time minutes all year. Meanwhile, the youngsters have problems of their own. J.J. Redick can't get consistent burn, Courtney Lee can't shoot, and Marcin Gortat can't help but foul people.

Guys 1-5 are solid. It's guys 6-12 who worry me.

Did J.J Redick really just start and play 34 minutes? Where did that come from?

BQR: Yes, Redick just started a game because Mickael Pietrus could not play due to bruised ribs. J.J. played 34 minutes of (pretty good) basketball. It's probably a one-time thing, though--the starting, not the playing well--because Pietrus is good to go, and the rotation will return to normal. Bogans will get a majority of the minutes backing up Pietrus, with Courtney Lee seeing spot duty here and there. Where does that leave J.J.? I have no idea. To be honest, I don't think the Magic do either.

Finally, seems to me like the Magic could really use a veteran point guard who is rested and ready to help push the Magic offensive firepower to another level. I have just what you're looking for and he's not too far away, in Atlanta. Any takers?

 BQR: You're right about the need for a backup point guard. As I mentioned, Johnson is the only guy who can back-up Jameer Nelson. In Jameer's absence, Hedo Turkoglu can play some point-forward, so that perhaps mitigates the need a bit. But while Johnson is a smart guy who plays hard, it doesn't look like he has enough left in the tank to have a significant role on a team with championship aspirations. And next season is a player option. D'oh!

However, Jamaal Tinsley is not a guy the Magic would be interested in signing. From here, I get the impression that his legal/character issues are behind him and/or exaggerated by the media. But that's just it. He has a bad reputation, and the Magic have never taken a chance on a guy with a bad reputation. Ever. Otis Smith has a philosophy that values character, which he enacts by prohibiting headbands and by enforcing a stricter dress code than the NBA put in place several years ago. So Tinsley's a no-go, even if the Pacers buy out his mammoth contract.

As far as Tinsley's skills... he's a good passer who can't shoot or defend. And apparently he's made of duct tape and balsa sticks. But I'm sure he could handle playing 15 minutes of relatively mistake-free ball for a night, right?