Five thoughts on the Magic's first game since its roster shakeup, a 91-81 loss to the Hawks, Orlando's seventh loss in its last eight games ...
1. Calm down. Calm down. Calm Down. Yes, Orlando looked awful. The three key newcomers- - Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas -- shot poorly (6 for 23), led by Arenas' ugly 2-for-11 night. The Magic's offense was chaotic all night. On at least two possessions Dwight Howard positioned himself on the low post, only to be waved off by Richardson, who elected to post his own man. Players looked unsure where they were supposed to be on the floor, a fact reflected in Orlando's 35.2 percent shooting.
But that's to be expected. Rarely do teams make the kind of sweeping changes Orlando has and even rarer are the teams that do considered contenders for a title. The Magic didn't practice with the new players and couldn't even conduct a shootaround because Richardson, Turkoglu, Arenas and Earl Clark were taking physicals. Clearly there is going to be an adjustment period, particularly for Arenas and Richardson, while they settle into the system.
Said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, "We're starting from scratch."
2. The defense needs some work. No one will ever confuse Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat with Ron Artest, Bruce Bowen and Dikembe Mutombo. But the overwhelming response from scouts the last few days has been that the shakeup will most impact Orlando's defense. Howard is still around to clean up a lot of messes, but teams are still going to target the Magic's new players.
Consider: A big part of Atlanta's game plan clearly was to attack Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu on the post and run Jameer Nelson and Arenas off screens. The Hawks repeatedly put Joe Johnson in post-up situations on Richardson and even called Smith's number a few times when Turkoglu was on his back. Mike Bibby had a monster second half as Nelson and Arenas struggled to close out on his jump shot.
Consider this, too: Howard played 42 minutes. There are going to be games when he gets into early foul trouble. and those minutes plummet to the mid-30s. Without Gortat the Magic have no one (sorry, Malik Allen) around to back him up, which is why rival executives say Orlando is scouring the league for another backup big.
3. Who starts? Van Gundy may experiment a little before settling on a starting lineup. Brandon Bass brings a physical presence at power forward, but over the last few years the Magic have thrived surrounding Howard with shooters, and with Turkoglu, Richardson, Arenas and Nelson this is as good a group of shooters the Orlando has had. If Bass continues to start there are bound to be questions about which longtime starter, Arenas or Richardson, is a better fit coming off the bench.
4. Turkoglu may be the key. The Turkoglu that left Orlando in 2008 is not the same player that crashed and burned with Toronto and Phoenix since then. The Orlando Turkoglu was a confident point forward with a keen court awareness and a knack for knocking down the big shot. The Toronto/Phoenix Turkoglu was shaky and didn't feel comfortable in his new surroundings. As important as Arenas and Richardson, if Orlando can get Turkoglu to rediscover his game it will go a long way towards getting this team on the same page. Turkoglu was a natural fit in Van Gundy's offense back then, and if his confidence returns there is no reason why he can't morph back into a similar player.
5. This could get a little ugly for the Magic. Orlando needs practice time. Badly. But with four games this week they won't get much of it and will have to contend with a murderers' row of games through Christmas. The Magic will host Dallas (Tuesday), San Antonio (Thursday) and Boston (Saturday). Along with Atlanta that's four talented, cohesive teams Orlando will be up against as they try to incorporate the new players into the system. Each game will undoubtedly draw a lot of attention, but expectations should be ratcheted down; this Magic team will look markedly different than the one playing in March.