Orlando Magic 103, Phoenix Suns 93 — Defense left at Disney World

Posted by on March 21st, 8:16 pm

Marcin Gortat was no match for Superman, who exploded for 28 points and 16 rebounds. Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Orlando Magic showed what an NBA team can do when left wide open for 48 minutes in a 103-93 victory over the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night in Orlando.

The Magic hit 11-of-23 from beyond the arc, including seven by Ryan Anderson, who had a team-high 29 points. Dwight Howard was dominant in the paint, scoring 28 points and disrupting the Suns’ offense with his mere presence in the key.

This matchup featured six players who have played for both the Suns and the Magic. One of those players, Marcin Gortat, was clearly nervous about the reunion, and it showed on the court.

Dwight Howard dominated his former backup on both ends of the floor. On offense Gortat looked like a quarterback who had been sacked one too many times and was now hearing footsteps on each dropback. His shot attempts were awkward and forced as he was clearly trying to avoid having his shot blocked by Howard. He also fumbled at least three passes that hit him squarely in the hands. Marcin ended the night with only four points on 1-of-7 shooting.

“He basically destroyed me and the whole team,” Gortat told Magic.com’s Josh Cohen.

On defense, Gortat recorded consecutive stops on Howard to begin the first quarter, but could do little to stop him for the rest of the game. The Suns brought double teams from every corner of the court in an attempt to keep Howard confused and tentative. Initially the Suns forced him into missed shots or passes out to the perimeter. By the end of the first quarter, however, Howard had figured out the Suns’ scheme and scored at will the rest of the way. From that point on, when the Suns brought a double team Howard did one of three things: 1) Hit a wide open shooter on the perimeter. 2) Initiated contact with the second defender and earned free throws. 3) Spun away from the second defender and scored on Gortat with a jump hook.

Dwight’s ability to finish with either hand was on full display in tonight’s game. He made scoring over the 7-foot Gortat look quite easy. By turning over his shoulder he created space between he and Gortat, which allowed him to elevate over Marcin’s outstretched hand with a jump hook or get by him with a dribble and two steps toward the hole. This is one of the most assertive games Howard has played in the post all season, and it’s clear he had something to prove against Gortat in this matchup.

The Suns’ double-teaming was the reason behind many of their defensive lapses in this game. From the outset, Phoenix was trapping in all four corners of the court. If the ball was swung into the baseline corner, the Suns brought a second defender. If Jameer Nelson dribbled right or left from the top of the key, Phoenix brought a second defender.

This worked out well for the Suns in the game’s opening minutes as they forced Orlando into five first quarter turnovers. The success came to a halt when Ryan Anderson started burying open threes. The constant double teaming led to mismatches, which Orlando exploited throughout the game.

Suns’ defenders were constantly rotating and switching, which allowed Orlando to beat them by making the extra pass to the open man. This style of defense is a gamble to be sure, but Phoenix could have hedged their bet with a strong effort from all five guys on the floor. The effort was not there at all.

The most glaring offender was Channing Frye, who was caught in slow rotation so many times I lost count. His mistakes were simply a lack of hustle, and they led to several easy buckets for the Magic. Up and down the Phoenix roster, players refused to close out strongly on open shooters, which allowed Orlando to shoot nearly 50 percent from deep. Both times someone did run at Anderson, he drew a foul and shot three free throws. Elston Turner will have to find some practice time to go over this defensive scheme with the team before they use it again. The Suns were either too tired or simply unprepared to put forth the requisite effort to defend the most prolific 3-point shooting team in the league.

The other startling defensive issue was penetration. Orlando’s small backcourt players — JJ Redick, Chris Duhon, and Jameer Nelson — were able to get into the key at will. Mostly off ball reversal, Orlando’s guards caught their defenders flatfooted and blew by them with ease. Once in the key, they could score at the rim or dish to a big for an easy finish. Either way, they made Phoenix’s defense look awful every time they stepped foot in the paint. Even Glen “Big Baby” Davis got by his man and finished in the paint. Davis ended the night with 16 points. Not the kind of defense you’d expect from a team hoping to make a playoff run.

On offense, Phoenix was clearly intimidated by Dwight Howard in the middle. D12 almost single-handedly turned the Suns into a jump-shooting team. This was acceptable in the first quarter when Jared Dudley couldn’t miss a jumper, but it is the sole reason the Magic built a 22-point lead by the fourth quarter. The Suns couldn’t get their 3-point shooting going, couldn’t take care of the ball, and couldn’t finish at the rim. Not exactly a recipe for offensive success.

Gortat matched his lowest scoring total of the season, and Steve Nash had his lowest assist output since the second game of the season in Philadelphia with just two dimes. The only reason this game ended up as a 10-point loss instead of 25 was the play of the bench in the second half.

In the first half of the game, the Phoenix reserves yielded ground and allowed Orlando to extend its lead before halftime. Their second stint on the court, however, saw them slice Orlando’s lead from 22 to 11 with five minutes to play in the fourth. Their outstanding effort on both ends forced Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to put his starters back in to close the game out. Sebastian Telfair had one of his stronger performances of the season, as he scored 10 points, grabbed four boards, handed out three assists, and got two steals in 21 minutes of action.

The reserves played the entire fourth quarter. Matching Telfair’s effort and enthusiasm was Robin Lopez. Whereas teammate Marcin Gortat was hesitant against Orlando’s big number 12, Lopez played hard and wasn’t afraid to go at Howard on both ends of the floor. Robin ended the night with 14 points and eight rebounds in just 22 minutes. He has been efficient and playing well over the last few games and may very well earn himself some additional playing time if tonight’s game impacts Gortat’s confidence moving forward.

The only other point of encouragement from the Suns’ offense tonight was Channing Frye. Frye started off the game cold as ice and instead of continuing to shoot jumpers or shying away from his shot completely, he penetrated and got buckets inside. This is a part of his game that Channing needs to continue to develop and utilize. If he can make defenders respect his inside game and penetrating ability, he will no doubt see more open looks on the perimeter because defenders will be hesitant to sell out completely on their close out.

For the Suns, their second loss in Florida drops them below .500 after briefly surfacing above that mark with nine wins in 11 games. Phoenix will visit Indiana on Friday and Cleveland on Sunday. Those are just two of their 11 remaining road games. Phoenix will more than likely need to win six of those games to remain in playoff contention. To do so, however, the Suns will need a much better defensive effort than they got tonight from everyone on the roster.

Coach Alvin Gentry will no doubt send a staffer to Disney World to retrieve the Suns’ defense from lost and found. He might want to buy Marcin some Mickey ears as well. The big fella could use a pick-me-up after tonight’s game.

Ryan Weisert

Ryan Weisert is a staff writer for ValleyoftheSuns. You can also find him at his sports and pop culture blog Spectavius.com.

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Tags: Marcin Gortat · Orlando Magic · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 shazam // Mar 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    let them laugh tonight …we will beat them in the 7th game of the championships…….whats up w/ redd tonight?…see his stat line?…pulled a casper

  • 2 Tony // Mar 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    What is up with Gortat???? It seems like the more games the Suns play, the worse he’s getting at catching passes. Right now, he’s clearly pressing and needs a confidence boost. I’ve said this before but it’s even more apt now, the better Lopez plays, the worse Gortat performs. I’m sure Gentry’s decision over the past couple weeks to let Lopez close out games has hurt Gortat’s psyche. It’s kind of reminding me of the situation with Dragic before he was traded from the Suns in that infamously stupid trade by orchestrated by the Third Stooge, Lance Blanks. In any case, Gentry needs to have a talk with Gortat and get him to regain his focus and lift his confidence.

    In all fairness, ee should not really be surprised the Magic were so dominant tonight. The Magic were embarrassed in their previous game against the Bulls, scoring only 59 points and that was without Rose. The Magic had a couple days to regroup and I’m sure they were amped up for tonight’s game. The Suns have played 6 games in 8 days so fatigue has probably set in.

    So the Blazers ended up signing Hickson and the Thunder signed Fisher. Interesting to see competent front offices willing to do whatever’s necessary to improve their respective teams and then there’s the Three Stooges, making no effort in improving the team now because of some distorted or intentionally deceitful claim that they want as much cap space as possible available to sign elite talent. Boris Diaw and Andres Noccioni were also bought out recently. I wonder if the Suns FO makes any attempt at bringing either of them to this team? Noccioni would be a great fit and well, we know Diaw can play in the Suns system.

  • 3 BoomShakaLuka // Mar 21, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    @Tony

    No thanks on signing Diaw. We don’t need another passive PF, we have enough of that on this roster with Frye on this team. Paul Silas hates Diaw because he keeps passing up shots. Can you imagine having both guys on the roster? One who can’t stop taking bad shots, and one who won’t shoot. LOL. It’d be a freakin’ Abbott & Costello routine out there every night.

  • 4 Tony // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:09 am

    I disagree about Diaw. The team still doesn’t have a second playmaker and the second unit in particular, has struggled because Telfair looks to score first, score second, and then if it’s virtually impossible for him to get a shot off, then he passes. Diaw’s best skill is his ability to create for others. I’m not saying he is the answer for the Suns, but rather that he would be a big help. You also have to consider that he probably would be more focused and have more eneergy coming back to Phoenix and leaving a bad situation with the Bobcats.

    I would just like to see the FO at least make some effort in improving this team now and not simply do nothing while claiming they have some master plan for the near future with all that cap-space available when any reasonable person knows they are not landing a superstar player via free-agency anytime soon.

  • 5 Pessy // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:32 am

    T_T It’s ALL over. The Suns has set for this season…no hope – NO HOPE!!!

  • 6 A-ROCK // Mar 22, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Sheesh the Polish Hammer! Does anyone know any Polish jokes….. besides the one I watched this evening fold like a lawn chair haha The only reason Gortat is coveted in Phoenix is because we never really knew what it was like to have a 7 foot center and he is making look back to bringing small ball back with our new defensive coordinator.

  • 7 A-ROCK // Mar 22, 2012 at 2:01 am

    Dwight Howard showed us why he was just a back up center real talk, number 12 was just out there having fun making things look easy. The Suns need to do the same thing is all along with some tough defense cuz the talent is there. Have fun and bring defense and less turnovers. Puzzle solved.

  • 8 PennyAnd1 // Mar 22, 2012 at 2:23 am

    I said it before and i’ll say it again. Gortat is too soft. The nickname “Polish hammer” is deceiving. His real nickname is “POLISH SOFTENER.”

    Too bad Suns cannot get Hickson. I’ve so frustrated to see Gortat play the p-n-r..it makes me sick. Dude cannot catch and don’t know how to score without Nash. He throws it up there with a prayer, I laugh at that. Maybe it’s a good idea to get Diaw..but he is too pricey and he looks out of shape I don’t think he can run with the Suns. Anyone play p-n-r with Nash other than Gortat please!

    @Shazam

    We will definitely see them in game 7 on the Finals.

  • 9 A-ROCK // Mar 22, 2012 at 2:48 am

    Please some one tell me this isn’t Gortat running from an A@# whooping …… Polish Actor…
    http://www.worldstarhiphop.com/videos/video.php?v=wshhH229b4wXutysm9oS

  • 10 Serek // Mar 22, 2012 at 3:03 am

    All right, so Gortat is not aggressive enough. He is afraid to drive to the rim and shove it. That’s why he lays nasty bricks from midrange. He also can’t draw fouls on most nights. But it’s ok, because he can’t make his FTs anyway. That’s the stuff he should work on – this is mostly mental, which might be good or bad, but can be dealt with. He was clearly intimidated by Howard, especially on the offensive end.

    But on the defense he was ok. But I think you can’t put Howard’s entire stat line on him. I recall at least a few baskets by D12 when Gortat had to defend somebody else in the paint (Anderson drive&assist and a putback for example). He should’ve stuck to Howard maybe and let Anderson make a career high, because the defense on the perimeter was very loose.

    All in all, as Ryan says, the defense was terrible this game. As it is now, the Suns can only win if they are clicking everywhere, and if they leave a hole someplace, that’s where talented teams come through.

  • 11 Brian // Mar 22, 2012 at 4:13 am

    I’ve never been on the “Polish so called Hammer’s” bandwagon since the beginning of this year. When all ya’ll thought he was an all-star, I saw that he still has many flaws he needs to fix. For one, HE’S A WEAK FU who always lays the DAMN BALL UP when he’s 7 feet! That’s all I need to say…Polish Hammer????What hammer? Also, he talks too much!! Remember last year w/ the defense and this year w/ him and Nash being the best 1 2 combo and him wanting to be an excellent free throw shooter, etc. Dude, back up your talk or shutup and produce and help this team win. Don’t look back cuz Robin is coming! Let’s go SUNS!!!!! Finish strong and surprise people out there!

  • 12 steve // Mar 22, 2012 at 8:22 am

    I think all of you clowns are forgetting he’s still easily a top 5 center no matter how you look at things.

    Is he prime Shaq? No, but who is?

    Gortat and Nash are the ONLY reasons this team has done anything this year. Neither one of them are perfect players, but they’re each in a completely different league than the rest of the team.

  • 13 Michael Schwartz // Mar 22, 2012 at 10:22 am

    As for the dunking question, I wonder if the thumb he broke at the beginning of the year is limiting him at all (mentally if nothing else).

  • 14 GoSuns // Mar 22, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Thats a good point, cause I remember throwing down last uear, on top of that where were all these gortat downers when he was going atleast 20&10 against bynum and gasol

  • 15 Suns Critic // Mar 22, 2012 at 11:05 am

    “[Howard] just had a good game. I mean, he was himself . . . He basically destroyed me and the whole team so that’s what happened. I tried to hold up to him in the first half and then in the second half, I kind of fell asleep and he started scoring like crazy.”
    – Suns center Marcin Gortat.

    fell asleep…. smh

  • 16 steve // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Ha, nice quote. I wonder if he was trying to say something along the lines of “settled down” and it’s just a disconnect between languages.

  • 17 Grover // Mar 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I doubt Gortat’s thumb is an issue. I don’t recall him dunking much more last year either. He’s more a European style center – more finesse and less concentration on dunking. I haven’t looked at the stats (too lazy to google), but my impression is the brightest difference Pre and post all star game is his usage rate. Some might be mental and he’s not as aggressively seeking his own shot, but some may be Frye, Dudley, and Hill playing more aggressively and taking away some of Gortat’s offense. If that’s true, the irony is that we’d be bashing Gortat for not scoring as much despite the fact that his scoring declines are caused by the same factors that are making the Suns offense more efficient the last month or so. Anyone have time to do some research to test my theory? If right, Gortat is the same player he was but the offense is more diversified.

  • 18 Zak // Mar 22, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Completely disregarding the discussion of Gortat, the Suns have 19 games left in this season. I was looking over their schedule and I think they should win 5 of those games, should lose 6 of them and that the other 8 are on the bubble. Those 8 are winnable but definitely not a sure thing (and of course none of them are). I believe that the Suns will finish the season 33-33. Whether that will be good enough for the 8th seed in the playoffs is debatable. Best case scenario, they finish 36-30, worst case… 28-38.

  • 19 A-ROCK // Mar 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Haha Dwight abusing Gortat lol

    http://www.worldstarhiphop.com/videos/video.php?v=wshhH229b4wXutysm9oS

    you can’t tell me this isn’t funny!!!

  • 20 PennyAnd1 // Mar 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    @Serek

    No doubt Gortat is a good center because of his defense like @Steve mention, he is top 5. But with the way Nash has been babying him, other centers who could catch & finish would be ranking around 2 or 3 by now.

    I have no hate on Gortat other than the fact that he is too soft, and he always acknowledges the opposition getting the best out of him, in this game Howard. The way he responds to games, you could tell he doesn’t like to take a challenge. That’s why they shouldn’t always be looking for Gortat to score during crunch time, or anytime at all for that matter. They should let Gortat play to his strength which is dirty work, and doing defense. The offense will eventually come especially if no one expects it to come from him. Gortat has a hard time catching bullet passes, what more with pressure down crunch time.

    That’s why next year, with enough money, Suns should get a Max-player PF who can play better p-n-r with Nash. A player with the likes of Amare or Randolph. And with the pressure taken off Gortat, plenty of damage could be done by both the PF & Gortat.

    The Suns will still make it to the playoff. Gortat just needs to focus. The game is about focusing. Where is your head Gortat?

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