Thursday, January 22, 2009

Live by the three, die by the three, starring the Orlando Magic

Outside of the crazy D'Antoni-ball being played in Madison Square Garden right now, nobody in the league shoots more deep shots than the Orlando Magic. They're quite good at it too, shooting over 40% for the year, compared to a league average of just over 36%, and use it to play a fantastic inside-outside game with the beast that is Dwight Howard under the basket drawing defenders.

Even the starting "Power Forward" for the Magic is shooting over 42%, so combined with some other pesky shooters and a defense holding opponents to the third lowest FG% in the league Orlando now sits far atop their division and in discussion for a title run.

While the three has been the Magic's friend most of the season, it has proven to also be their enemy when things go sour.

The Magic as a team shoot over 33% of their shots from behind the arc, compared to a league average of 22%, and (D'Antoni-ball excluded) 6% higher than anyone else in the league. Because of this, a 5-6% variation in 3P% has a greater effect on total points than most teams.

So when the shots aren't falling, things get bad. Teams can start to collapse harder onto Howard without fear of paying for it from deep. Additionally, the shooting culture of Orlando leads to cold shooters continuing to shoot anyway, which can't help.

Tonight, for example, the Magic lost 90-80 at home to the Boston Celtics, in a match-up of two of the three best teams in the East. Seven weeks ago, the Magic also lost to the Celtics, in Boston, by a 107-88 margin. The common factor? Poor shooting behind the arc.

In the first match-up, Orlando shot 5/26 (19.2%) from deep, leading to a 19pt margin of defeat despite winning the rebounding battle and breaking even in turnovers, the two regularly telling factors in swinging a game.

Tonight, the Magic shot 7-22 (31.8%) from deep, not awful but still almost 9% below their average for the year. The ten point loss, then, stems also from being outdone slightly in turnovers and rebounds, without a dominant deep ball to bail them out.

A good three point shooting team can be as dangerous as anybody, making leads disappear in just moments. The Magic have the ability to be that team, as they've shown, and have the ability to be far from it, as they've also shown.

The question then is this: Can the Magic be hot from deep four out of seven games in a series come playoff time? Can they adjust to an off night without relying on a titanic performance from Dwight Howard?

Regardless, it's fun to watch. Let's hope they don't change a thing.

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