Stan Van Gundy isn’t satisfied with the Orlando Magic’s defense, but that hasn’t kept the defending Eastern Conference champions from getting off to an impressive start.
Dwight Howard(notes) and Orlando’s hot shooting have helped offset a suspension to Rashard Lewis(notes), and the high-scoring Magic may get Vince Carter(notes) back Sunday at the Ford Center as they seek an eighth straight victory over the Oklahoma Thunder franchise.
The Magic (5-1) are without Lewis, suspended 10 games for an elevated testosterone level, and have only had Carter available for three games as he deals with a sprained left ankle, but they’re still scoring 108.7 points per game.
That effective offense has been largely thanks to the NBA’s reigning defensive player of the year. Howard leads the East in field-goal percentage (67.8) and he’s helped draw plenty of defenders to kick the ball out to Orlando’s shooters, who connect on a league-high 11.5 3-pointers per game.
Howard and his coach, though, have been less than thrilled with the team’s defense. The Magic are among the worst in the league in forcing turnovers at 12.2 per game, they’ve already allowed four opponents to score 100 points and they rank among the bottom third in the NBA in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 46.0.
“We haven’t played good enough defense to be a great team,” Howard said. “We have to try and be great every night, and that’s just not happening yet.”
Orlando allowed Detroit to shoot 51.4 percent and score 35 fourth-quarter points Friday but held on for a 110-103 win.
“We’re not playing smart enough. We didn’t play enough defense and for too many minutes we were just hanging on to win a regular-season game,” Van Gundy said. “We aren’t making the push to be great. I don’t know if we will. We’ll have to see.”
Ryan Anderson(notes), considered a throw-in piece to the deal that sent Carter to the Magic from New Jersey, has connected on 43.6 percent of his 3-point attempts but sprained his ankle against Detroit and is due to have an MRI. Carter, averaging 15.3 points, is expected to return after missing the last two games.
It’s Howard, though, that Oklahoma City (2-3) is likely most concerned with slowing down. He’s averaged 30.0 points, 19.3 rebounds and 7.0 blocks in his last three games against the Thunder, who haven’t beaten the Magic since Jan. 11, 2006, while still in Seattle.
The only triple-double of Howard’s career came in Orlando’s first visit to Oklahoma City as he finished with 30 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks in a 109-92 win Nov. 12.
The Thunder are among the league’s lowest-scoring teams at 91.8 points per game and haven’t scored 100 since a win on opening night. Russell Westbrook(notes) had 33 points and Kevin Durant(notes) added 27 on Friday at Houston, but the rest of the team was 15 of 45 from the field in a 105-94 loss.
“They both had good offensive games, but we are all about team,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We didn’t get the job done.”
Krstic averaged 4.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and four fouls in his two most recent games against Howard while with New Jersey in the 2007-08 season.