Magic point guards offer little resistance, assistance in recent defeats

By SAM GARDNER Magic writer

The Orlando backcourt has faced a murderer’s row of point guards over the last week or so, and, by and large, the results have been ugly.

Starting with Jason Kidd on Saturday, the Magic have played three straight games against three of the best point guards the NBA has to offer.

And after a win over Kidd and the Mavericks over the weekend, Orlando has dropped two straight games, the first on Wednesday to Chris Paul’s New Orleans Hornets and the second on Thursday against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The hellish week got off to a decent enough start as Kidd was limited to just six points, five rebounds and seven assists on Saturday — it was actually former Magic guard DeShawn Stevenson who had his best game of the season that night, scoring 24 on 8-of-13 shooting and 6-of-9 shooting from three — but it all went downhill from there.

On Wednesday, Paul was outstanding, weaving his way through the Orlando defense with ease and dishing out assist after assist. He finished the game with 13 dimes to go with 12 points, and it was Paul’s short jumper with 1:36 to go that gave New Orleans just enough padding to keep the Magic from overtaking them at the end.

Then on Thursday, Orlando made Westbrook look like Magic Johnson, as the 22-year-old guard recorded his fourth career triple-double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. Westbrook shot the ball well (11-of-22), worked his way into the guts of the Magic defense (he took just one three-point attempt) and got to the foul line at will (13 free throw attempts).

Any resistance the Magic put up against Westbrook and his comrade Kevin Durant (36 points on 13-of-17 shooting) was futile, and the 125-124 final score told the story of the game.

A part of these breakout performances is simply the fact that great players tend to play great basketball — especially when they’re playing great teams — but for the Magic’s part, their point guard tandem of Jameer Nelson and Gilbert Arenas has done little to stop opposing ball handlers.

And the offense — especially from Nelson — has been nearly non-existent during the two losses.

Against Dallas, Nelson and Arenas combined for 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting, but they only handed out one assist apiece in the victory (Hedo Turkoglu, however, had 17). In the two games since, Nelson has scored just 11 points on 5-of-21 shooting (1-of-6 from beyond the arc) and Arenas has scored 13 points on a somewhat more respectable 5-of-13 from the floor.

Nelson did dish out 10 assists against New Orleans and six against Oklahoma City (and the number would have been higher had the Magic shown any shooting touch at all in the Big Easy), but when the threat of Nelson shooting the ball is neutralized, it makes both Nelson and the team as a whole easier to defend.

The Magic are just 7-5 this year when Nelson is held to 10 points or less. And when his shooting percentage is at 35 percent or lower, Orlando is 4-6 on the season. On the other hand, the Magic are 10-3 when Nelson makes at least half of his shot attempts, and they’re 3-1 when he scores at least 20 points.

The Magic’s point guards get a night off — at least relative to their recent assignments — when they play Minnesota on Saturday.

While Luke Ridnour is a respectable point guard, he’s not exactly at the level of Paul, Westbrook or Kidd. Ridnour has had three double-doubles this year (20 points and 10 assists against Detroit, 12 and 11 against New Orleans and 10 and 11 against Portland), but he shouldn’t be much of a threat to take over the game.

Nelson and Arenas will need to use Saturday to get their minds and games right, because they’ll hop right back into the gauntlet on Monday against Rajon Rondo and the Celtics.

Rondo didn’t play in the Christmas Day game in Orlando, but in 10 games against the Magic last year, he averaged 13.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists per night. Nelson and Arenas can’t still be on their heels when Rondo takes the floor Monday, or else it’ll be a long flight back to Central Florida.

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