(Moncton, NB - February 3, 2018)
Some quick thoughts about Friday's 116-98 Magic victory over the St. John's Edge in advance of their rematch tonight live from Mile One Centre at 6:30 Atlantic time on monctonmagic.ca.
- The Edge maaaaayyyyy have a new game plan for guarding Corey Allmond on the second night of their back-to-back- I awarded the midseason Coach of the Year award to Jeff Dunlap in yesterday's column and with good reason. The Edge have had a lot of roster turnover and a couple of injuries, but always come prepared and execute their stuff. Now, some of their problem with Allmond was most definitely execution issues. Professional basketball players know how to defend skip passes within a zone and dribble handoffs to be sure. You communicate, move your feet and stick your close outs. St. John's clearly struggled at times with all three. However, the decision to go to a zone at all was questionable and the Edge played it so poorly you almost had to wonder if they'd practiced it at all. If Allmond wasn't making a three, there were wide open spaces for penetration and cutters and the Magic picked the Edge apart on the offensive glass.
- The way the Magic are playing right now, game plans may not matter in the least- Moncton has won 7 of 10 and, in their last two games, have defeated the teams occupying the top spot in each division by double digits. Coach Dunlap had a very effective plan for Terry Thomas and Anthony Anderson, sending multiple defenders at their dribble penetration and holding them to 14 points on 5 for 18 shooting. But they combined for 10 assists and zero turnovers and were key parts of that stifling Moncton defense. Everyone moved the ball, Allmond, Brent Jennings and Jeremy Williams carried them early, and the bench combined to shoot 18-28 from the field. Therein lies the problem for any Magic foe right now. Allmond will more than likely find more defenders in his face far more quickly on Saturday night but the affect of that should just be more openings for AA and TT. It's a game of pick your poison with the Magic lineup right now and everyone is taking their turns being deadly.
- I was wrong when I suggested a month back that the Magic would need to replace Tim Mitchell with another big- The team is going with a 3-headed monster up front of Tirrell Baines, Anthony Cox and Denzell Taylor and has it ever worked out. With Brent Jennings and Jeremy Williams offering such length, size and scoring from the SF or PF spots on the first and second units, the trio's talents are needed in varying degrees from game to game. Coming into Friday, Cox and Baines had only seen the floor a total of 41 minutes combined over the last 2 games. Against the Edge, they combined for 20 points and 11 boards on 8-9 shooting in 37 minutes. Taylor followed up his monster 15 and 14 game against Halifax with 5 points and 9 boards to go along with his typically smothering defense. However, you have to look beyond simple numbers to truly see their value. All three found themselves switched onto much smaller guards and regularly kept them out of the lane without fouling. On the other end of the floor, they posted up smaller players out of the Edge's switching D and abused them in those limited opportunities. Execution of these finer points of the game is crucial and that's where the Magic are distancing themselves from their opponents right now.
- Speaking of that defense…..- The Magic have now held 5 of their last 6 opponents under 100 points. During this 10-game run, the Magic's offense has definitely come around, but it's their defense that has to be most frightening to opponents right now. The style with most teams in the league is to switch all screens and to even adopt some zone principles within their man-to-man by not following cutters from one side of the floor to another. There are advantages to that to be sure, but one obvious downside is that you'll regularly have to deal with smart offenses forcing you into defensive mismatches. But there's more to it than even that. By not fighting through screens and being physical with cutters, you're not making the offense work for what they get. And, in my opinion, it can turn superior athletes into subconsciously lazy defenders. If you watch the Magic closely, switching is definitely a part of their defense, but only a part. They execute a help and recover strategy with their big men that is the best in the league. Against the Edge on Friday night they completely overplayed the screens, forcing St. John's to be one sided, taking away space and angles, and effectively eliminating the playmaking effectiveness of Superman Johnson, Desmond Lee and Coron Williams. All three shot the ball well from the perimeter, but combined for just 6 assists against 7 turnovers. Meanwhile, Carl English struggled mightily from the perimeter and the harassment of Terry Thomas had everything to do with that. Clean looks were mostly absent for the Newfoundland native who was forced to create things himself with Thomas draped all over him. It also helps that the Magic are one of the two best rebounding teams in the league as well, and they were plus-8 in that department Friday night.
- Al Stewart should never start a basketball game ever again as long as he lives…..and I mean that as a compliment- It's no coincidence this stellar three-game stretch has coincided with his move to the bench. You can just feel the tone of the game change when Al steps on the floor. Against second units or tired starters, his speed, hands, defense and smarts are devastating. Checking the stat-line at the end of the game, you assume he's going to have bigger numbers, such is his impact.
- St. John's is NOT to be taken lightly- This was a one point game midway through the third quarter, Carl English was 3-11 from three in his first game back from injury and Corey Allmond was absolutely unconscious from that range. Grandy Glaze is a little beat up still and, outside of Ransford Brempong and Coron Williams, they got nothing from their bench offensively or defensively. I'm not saying that all those issues are easily overcome or that the Magic weren't the primary cause or can't recreate that havoc, but it's one game and these guys are bound to be a different team in front of a raucous crowd again tonight. Tune in starting at 6:30 at monctonmagic.ca and enjoy.
Story by: David Tingley
Photo: Jeff Parsons