They draw cheers from the crowd. They draw praise from the coach. They excite your teammates. They can change momentum.
Whether it’s coming up with a big steal, fighting for a rebound or diving for a loose ball, they’re unheralded plays that could be the difference between winning and losing.
After some lackluster performances during the first few weeks of the season, this finally looks like something the Orlando Magic are figuring out.
Over the past few games, we’ve seen Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat dive on the floor for a loose ball. We’ve seen Brandon Bass fight seemingly harder than ever before for rebounds and we’ve seen Jameer Nelson and Quentin Richardson sprint in front of lazy passes, getting steals that lead to easy baskets on the other end.
It’s nothing difficult or overly complicated but it’s something that’s hard to do on a consistent basis throughout the grind that is the 82-game NBA regular season.
What’s strange about the lack of plays like this from the Magic early in the season is the Magic were making these plays before the season started, before the games even counted.
“We’re just playing like we did in the preseason,” Chris Duhon said.
The Magic looked like a juggernaut during the preseason, dominating every team they played en route to a second consecutive perfect preseason (7-0).
“It’s just a lot of energy,” Duhon explained. “Guys are making multiple efforts.”
Hustle plays are certainly an encouraging sign.
“It just brings the energy level up,” Duhon said.
According to several Magic players, hustle plays seem to be contagious.
“It just holds everyone accountable,” said Duhon. “If you see one guy doing it, there’s no reason why you can’t do it.”
When you see your teammate diving on the ground, it’s going to inspire you to do it. When you see your teammate fighting for a loose ball, it’s going to make you work that much harder.
Plays like this don’t just send a message to your teammates but it tells your opponent something as well.
“It sends a message to the other team,” Duhon explained. “We’re going to fight for every loose ball and play every play until the whistle. For you to have a chance to beat us, you’re going to have to match our energy or have a better energy than us.”
“We can’t let people take it to us,” Jameer Nelson said. “We’ve got to go out there and take it to them.”
Although, it’s great to see superstars dive all of the court, it’s still risky and it’s not something other players expect.
“People don’t expect Dwight Howard to jump on the floor and dive for the balls,” Marcin Gortat explained. “What would happen if he would break one of his fingers or something?”
Instead, it’s up to guys like Gortat and Duhon to make plays like this. Role players like them can be the glue that holds teams together.
“Those plays are for the role players,” Gortat said. “And I definitely don’t have a problem with that.”
“That’s the kind of stuff we need,” Dwight Howard added.
Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy agreed and went to equate hustle plays with toughness, which is a characteristic the Magic are stressing in their players this season.
“Loose balls where we’re diving on the floor, we’re really showing some toughness to win the game,” Van Gundy said.
If the Magic keep making plays like that, the wins will continue to come.
News & Notes:
- The Orlando Magic now have the second best record in the Eastern Conference at 9-4, trailing the Boston Celtics (10-4) by mere percentage points.
- The Magic lead the Southeast division by 1.5 games over the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks, who both enter Tuesday with a record of 8-6.
- Dwight Howard has now played 502 career games.
- Howard grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds in Monday night’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
- The Magic will host the Miami Wednesday night. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 pm EST and the game will be carried nationally by ESPN.
- After winning 12 of 13 games against the Heat, the Magic are just 2-3 in their last 5 meetings against their in-state rival, including a 26-point loss on October 29th.
- As good as Miami’s big 3 are, they collectively do more damage against the Magic than they do against any other team. Dwyane Wade averages more points per game against Orlando than he does against any other team. In 22 career games against the Magic, Wade had scored 29.7 points, dished out 6.2 points and grabbed 5.4 rebounds per game. Chris Bosh has averaged 22.7 points and 10.0 rebounds in 22 games the Magic while LeBron James has averaged 27.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.4 assists against the Magic in 25 career games.