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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Pacers Take Care of Business Versus the Magic

What is the difference between a solid playoff team and a team that is headed straight for the Draft Lottery? The Indiana Pacers' 97-83 win over the Orlando Magic at Conseco Fieldhouse on Monday night provided a concise answer: toughness and the ability to execute down the stretch separate the contenders from the also-rans.

In his postgame standup, Magic Coach Brian Hill said, "We didn't box out. We gave up key offensive rebounds down the stretch. But, I felt where we really got hurt was the first half. I really don't think that we came into the game with the mindset that we were going to come out and win the basketball game. I thought that we were very timid defensively."

Orlando actually led 19-13 with 4:59 to go in the first quarter on the strength of Dwight Howard's 11 points but the Pacers then went on a 21-4 run and never trailed again (Orlando tied the game early in the third quarter and again early in the fourth quarter).

The Magic do have an intriguing blend of young, talented players. Howard's game continues to develop by leaps and bounds--he literally leaps over people and grabs a prolific amount of rebounds, finishing with 22 points and 11 boards versus the Pacers. Hedo Turkoglu had an off shooting night (4-12 from the field) but the soon to be 27 year old forward should provide an outside shooting complement to Howard's inside game for many years. Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo will battle for the starting point guard position now that Steve Francis has been shipped to the Knicks. Perhaps the most intriguing piece to the Magic puzzle is Darko Milicic, the new arrival from Detroit who had been buried deep on the Pistons' bench behind the talented frontline of Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess. Milicic is playing significant NBA minutes for the first time in his brief career and early returns suggest that he has bona fide skills. Against the Pacers he scored eight points on 4-8 shooting from the field while grabbing three rebounds and blocking five shots in just over 23 minutes of action. He only had two assists but he exhibits good court vision, a willingness to pass the ball and the ability to deliver a variety of passes, including lobs and one hand bounce passes. Orlando uses him mainly as a screener in high pick and rolls or side pick and rolls and most of his baskets came on jump shots after a double-teamed guard kicked the ball back to Milicic.

Danny Granger and Anthony Johnson led the Pacers with 21 points each; Granger also had 12 rebounds.

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Notes From Courtside:

Before the Cavs-Mavs game in Cleveland last April I watched Dallas assistant coach Mark Bryant working with Dallas big men Pavel Podkolzin and D.J. Mbenga. Bryant was sweating so much that I remarked to him afterwards that it seemed like he was getting more of a pregame workout than some players and that he must be the hardest working assistant coach in the league, at least in terms of on court exertion. Now Bryant is an assistant coach with the Magic, but he has not slacked off on his pregame activities. Before Monday's game he played one-on-one versus veteran Magic forward Bo Outlaw. One of them positioned himself on the low left block and received a pass from a ball boy, while the other one tried to stop him from scoring. If the offensive player scored he retained possession. Bryant relied on size and power, while Outlaw used finesse and quickness. On this night, finesse and quickness prevailed. I reminded Bryant about watching him with Pokolzin and Mbenga last year and he told me that he is just trying to teach his players the tricks of the trade, hastening to add that Outlaw has been around so long that he knows most of them already.

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Outlaw exudes as much joy as any NBA player I've ever seen. Whether he's playing one-on-one with Bryant, dancing to the music playing over the p.a. system, chatting with fans or arena personnel or just spinning a ball on his finger, his happiness and welcoming smile are contagious. That spirit is surely one of the things that has helped him to have a 13 year NBA career after not being drafted.

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Jameer Nelson's shooting percentages are up across the board over his rookie numbers--his field goal percentage has increased from .455 to .473, his three point percentage has soared from .312 to .417 and his free throw percentage has improved to a solid .769 from .682. He worked very diligently on his shot before Monday's game, shooting three pointers from the top of the key, the elbow and the baseline and then some free throws, finishing off by draining two straight shots from midway between the three point line and half court. His best spot seemed to be from the top of the key, although he shot well from all locations. Nelson shot 3-7 from the field and 1-2 from the free throw line against the Pacers and did not attempt a three point shot.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:03 AM

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