Our team's had some struggles of late and dropped out of the number one spot in the league, but how about that finish to the road trip? Here's a little recap of the weekend action in PEI and Halifax:
1. Basketball is a funny sport people—If you'd told me before the weekend that the Magic would go 1-1 on the road, that would have sounded about right. Game # 1 was fresh off 4 days rest against a 2-11 squad struggling to find an identity and game # 2 was the very next night against a bitter, and healthier, rival welcoming a perennial All-Star and hometown favourite to the team. You know how this story ends fans, and the less said about game number 1 the better, but the story of game number 2 can't properly be told without it.
2. The Magic lost their defensive identity on the Island—After some rest and practice days, I expected to see a classic Moncton defensive performance against a Storm team on a long losing streak. Instead, they appeared listless and lethargic. There were messy close-outs, missed box-outs, wide-open shooters and too much dribble penetration. The Magic only forced 7 turnovers. Island played a wonderful game and if they'd shot the ball a little better, that score could have been much, much worse.
3. It wasn't about loss of identity on offense, but more about decision-making—on the other end of the floor, they looked to be 5 individuals on the floor instead of a unit playing together. In a league with this many, explosive, one-on-one talents and 24 seconds to get a look at the rim, you need shot creators, and the Magic are blessed with those. Big assist numbers and easy hoops are nice, but sometimes it doesn't come down to numbers, it comes down to decision-making. The Magic had an 18-10 assist/turnover ratio against the Storm and a 15-18 one against the Hurricanes. Shot selection and ball-movement however, was much more sound, and the squad's shooting percentages from both 2 and 3 -point range went up by over 10% game over game.
4. Really though, it ALWAYS comes back to the defense—Jordan Washington and, in his return to the league, Terry Thomas, were spectacular for Halifax, but in the final 8:16 of the game after the Hurricanes went up 103-91, the Magic held them to a combined 5 points. Meanwhile, the rest of the Halifax roster combined to shoot 34% from the field and, as a team, managed to shoot only 6-28 from the three-point line. The Magic were without Duke Mondy, Denzell Taylor, and Billy White, and Jason Calliste could only manage 10 minutes as he struggles to get over some injuries. Still, they gutted out all the stops they needed in all the big moments late.
5. How good has Wayne McCullough been?—In his last 8, the rookie from Texas is averaging over 13 ppg on almost 50% shooting and has been the Magic's best perimeter defender. Against Halifax, he had his 4th double digit rebounding game of the season, put back a miss with 20 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime, and was the primary defender on Gabe Freeman, forcing the former MVP into a 3 for 8, 6-point performance. McCullough's 2 steals and rebounding numbers don't fully illustrate the effect he had. His deflections on the defensive end and relentless crashing of the glass on both create all kinds of problems for the opposition and opportunities for his teammates.
6. Here's a bonus one just to gush about other individual performances—Outside of his contributions at the line, Isaiah Tate hadn't contributed much during the Magic's losing streak. He was tremendous against the Hurricanes though, making a couple of HUGE threes down the stretch, and contributing defensively all night. And by simply soaking up 30 consistent backcourt minutes, moving the ball and only committing one turnover, he showed how important a deep bench can be in big games like this. Joel Ndondo's first important minutes as a member of the Magic came last night and boy did HE step up. His 9 points and 5 boards in 20 minutes on 4-6 shooting was key, as was his banging down low with Rhamel Brown, helping Nick Evans and the rest of the shorthanded frontcourt hold the Hurricane stalwart to 7 and 6 on 3 of 10 shooting. Lastly, how about Marcus Lewis? The NBL journeyman logged 36 huge minutes and dropped 19 points on 6-9 shooting and 2 threes, throwing in 2 steals, 7 boards and terrific defense for good measure. The Magic now have a full week to get a little healthier, get some new pieces acclimated, and come out firing in the first home game in awhile, this Friday at 7 pm against the Island Storm.