The Orlando Magic has DESEPERATELY needed shooting and outside scoring all season. On Saturday night against the visiting Atlanta Hawks, they looked like that had never been a problem.
Who knew they might have found it by giving up the interior defensive player they highly coveted since Dwight Howard left five seasons ago.
Orlando held a three-point halftime lead at 49-46. In the third quarter, where they’ve struggled all season, they stretched that lead to 15 behind a 31-point quarter, while holding the Hawks to only 19. The catalyst behind the second half surge was Terrance Ross.
Ross, who was acquired before the All-Star break for Serge Ibaka, made General Manager Rob Hennigan look like a genius for that move Saturday night against the Atlanta. He played 35 minutes and scored 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting, 4 of 7 from 3 point range in Orlando’s 105 to 86 victory.
Late in the third quarter and into the fourth, the Magic ran several plays for Ross where he came off a pin down screen by a big and curled into the lane for a pull up jumper.
All this coming off a disappointing performance in his debut game in a blue and white uniform where he made only four shots on seventeen attempts.
The 26-year old former NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Champion didn’t just do it on offense end. Orlando’s new acquisition got his hands in the passing lane and created several turnovers. He had two steals and a block. Atlanta had 17 on the night leading to 26 Magic points.
The addition of Ross not only gives them the scoring punch they need, it also allows Aaron Gordon to play the power forward position — where he’s started the last two games — where he’s probably more suitable to play in today’s small ball style of the NBA. Gordon responded with 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting and several of his usual above the rim highlight plays.
After the game, Gordon told the Magic Live/Fox Sports Florida crew “I’m continuing to play on the perimeter just at the four position, it spreads the floor so much and I can pick and choose when I want to post up.”
Elfrid Payton was the beneficiary of having a spread court to roam through. Payton flirted with a triple-double dishing out 9 points, grabbing 9 rebounds while scoring 15 points. The offense was free flowing.
Nikola Vucevic looked liked his old self as he outplayed his predecessor, Dwight Howard, with 16 points and 14 rebounds. “Vooch” was able to play the pick and pop game he’s been so successful at during his time in a Magic uniform with Payton.
The spacing didn’t just help in the half court. Orlando played at a faster pace in the open court off Hawk misses and turnovers, scoring 27 fast break points. The youth movement was in full display against a quality opponent that has a lot to play for, and coming off a tough loss to the Miami Heat in south Florida the night before.
For one night, GM Hennigan looked like he may have solved the riddle that’s been holding this team back all season. Question now is, is it too late for a playoff push with 22 games remaining and 7 games back of the eight seed?
Probably so, but what this team needs is to build momentum going into the offseason. A strong finish will go a long way in setting the tone for the 2017-18 season.
The Magic have three days off to get some practice time before they host the New York Knicks Wednesday night at the Amway Center.