A few thoughts on last night’s 102-89 Magic victory over Cape Breton ahead of tonight’s matchup against the St. John’s Edge.
1. It’s not about who’s sitting and watching, it’s about who you have on the floor.
This just in: Injuries happen in pro sports. I’ve used this space before to rave about the depth of the Magic roster, but it bears repeating. The Magic have yet to play a single game with everyone in the lineup, and with Chad Posthumous out another couple of weeks, they won’t until at least December 9th. Cape Breton is still down Aaron Redpath for up to two more weeks, O’Louis McCullough never left the bench and All-Star Bruce Massey Jr. left the floor early in the second half and didn’t return, but they just kept grinding. Their problem is that of every other roster in the league right now, however. The #7, 8, 9….etc guys on their roster can’t match their counterparts in Black and Silver.
2. …..but don’t forget about those 1, 2, 3, 4 guys.
Through 5 games: Isaiah Tate-20+ ppg on 58% shooting; Denzell Taylor-10.2 rpg and 81% shooting; Gentrey Thomas: 13 ppg on nearly 50% shooting. Last night that trio was a combined 5-18 from the field for 14 points, 1 assist and 4 turnovers. This is purely a “momma said there’d be days like this” situation and they’ll all bounce back, and when your backup plan for a night when your bench is struggling offensively is to bump up the minutes for Carson/Herring Jr/White/Evans, life is good. That being said, the 4th quarter crunch time lineup was the five getting the most stops, a group that included both Thomas and Taylor (before Herring returned late and made a couple of huge defensive plays of his own) with Carson and Evans. It’s more difficult than it sounds to maintain your focus on the defensive end of the floor when you’re labouring offensively. There was a long stretch of the second half that Cape Breton kept the lead at 6-8 and threatened on multiple occasions to make it a one possession game. Each time, the Magic dug deep, and it was often Gentrey or Denzell making the hustle play or securing the rebound to end another empty Highlander possession.
3. ….and if it wasn’t one of them, it was often our new favourite Texan.
Wayne McCullough’s line of 13 points, 4 boards and a steal may look modest, but in the second half of the final quarter, it was his tip in and follow dunk on the break that finally brought the Avenir Centre crowd to their feet. On a night where fast break points came at a premium and the teams combined to shoot 10-44 from the arc, a little extra noise in the home building was no small thing. Those plays came in the middle of the push that opened up a close game and sent the crowd home on a high. No matter his stats game-to-game, McCullough has consistently found a way to impact Magic games with his defense and his energy. With the marquee names on this roster, Coach Salerno and the management team had to fill out the roster with some young, hungry guys with character looking to prove themselves, and the high-flyer from the Lone Star State has been a standout thus far.
4. His defense was needed on the league’s breakout Canadian star.
Jamal Reynolds was an effective player off the Highlander bench last year, but I thought he was a controversial pick for the All-Canadian team over players such as our own Denzell Taylor. This year however, he may find himself voted Canadian of the Year, Most Improved, 6th Man, All-defense and maybe even the MP for the House of Commons for the riding of Sydney-Victoria at the rate he’s going. He put up another double-double last night off the bench and threw in 3 blocks for good measure. He’s amongst the league-leaders in rebounds (one of CB’s home games isn’t reporting full stats, when that gets fixed, he may actually be #1 in that category) and does most of his damage in that area on the offensive end of the floor. He was a problem last night, don’t get me wrong, but McCullough, Thomas, amongst others, limited him enough on that end to keep the Highlanders at bay. They’ll need that effort and more the next time these teams meet if his running mate Massey Jr. is back to keep the Magic honest.
5. The Nick Evans Show
Evans was brought into Moncton literally the day before training camp started with only the promise of a three-day trial and a “we’ll see after that”. Well, here we are in December and the big man with career averages of 9.1 ppg and 5.2 rpg is averaging nearly 13 and 7 for the undefeated Magic. In parts of 5 previous NBLC seasons, he’d never made a three. This year, he’s already splashed in 5 from long range, including a late dagger last night that was the cherry on top of his 25-point, 11 rebound, 2 block sundae. He’s been his same-old demonstrative self on the floor, but on-court run-ins from previous seasons that gave him a rep as a guy opposing fans love to hate, haven’t followed him to the Magic organization in the least. He’s been happy and productive, and his expectant partner Natasha has just moved from PEI to join him in the Hub City. Life is good in Nick Evans’ world right now.
6. Ummmm, about those struggles from long range….
Another 6-21 night from three-point range would likely spell doom for the Magic on their home court given their opposition tonight. The Edge get ‘em up from deep and get ‘em up in bunches. St. John’s got up 78 attempts from beyond the arc in two games last weekend, and a week of practice won’t have suddenly made them more bashful. They actually shot a decent percentage on the Rock, especially considering the high volume, but Moncton so thoroughly controlled the game inside the paint, it was all for naught. If St. John’s can get it going from long range and cobble together some balance inside the line, the Magic will find themselves in a game. They came into last night as the #1 team in the league in three-point percentage, so you know they have it in them, especially in front of a loud and demonstrative home crowd. Let’s come out and give them one Moncton! See everyone at the Avenir tonight, but if you’re outside the Hub City, you’re still INSIDE the listening area. Find Scott Squires and I on monctonmagic.ca for the call at 7 PM.