A few thoughts on Friday’s Edge/Magic game ahead of today’s rematch:
1. Good thing Billy White’s teammates didn’t forget about him like yours truly did.
Your faithful narrator’s game preview neglected to mention Friday’s eventual Player of the Game for the Magic. Man, a guy misses a couple of games with an injury and he’s persona non grata huh? Let that be a lesson to all you aspiring sportswriters out there. Give your article that third re-read to ensure you didn’t mistakenly edit out your paragraph on potentially your team’s most important player. Obviously, Billy devours all my stuff and took out his frustration on the Edge. Not only was he seemingly right back on form after a week on the shelf with a painful bone bruise, he was at his most effectively surly. And, unlike most players, a grouchy White is a successful White. Playing with an edge…..no pun intended…..is where Billy likes to be, and 6000 screaming Newfoundlanders is only going to light more of a fire under him. He went for 21 and 8 with 4 steals in his return and he missed some bunnies he normally makes. Last team’s first team all-NBLC looks like he’s going to enjoy life in the black and silver.
2. Two excellent teams with outstanding coaches in an electric setting made for….an awfully ordinary game.
Yeah, there’s a decent chance we’ll look back on Friday as the LEAST entertaining matchup between these two squads all season. Pretty in short stretches, aesthetically rough in many others, it was a game even a tight finish couldn’t quite save. The turnovers finished 19-15 Edge, but those numbers felt low as neither team ever fully hit their stride. The shooting percentages finished in the mid-40’s, but many of the marquee names on both sides struggled, enhancing the mucky feel for long spells of each half. The benches finished a combined 52% from the field and made 11 of the 20 three-pointers between the two teams. Look for both starting-fives to be far more efficient on Sunday afternoon.
3. The Magic’s tighter rotation shows how adaptable their lineup is yet again.
I sang the praises of the Magic backcourt in this space before Friday’s game, and they did nothing to assuage my confidence, despite the aforementioned struggles from the starters. When Jahii Carson and Doug Herring Jr. can combine for 19 points on 7-25 from the field and you still get it done on the road against a quality opponent, it’s like stealing. This may not be the last game that Isaiah Tate and Gentrey Thomas contribute to such thievery either. Both earned late minutes and came up huge. Tate banged in a pair of threes and a tough spinning fadeaway as the game approached crunch time, while Thomas made the decisive defensive play, leaping out of bounds to save a steal as the Edge were attempting to tie the game with less than 30 seconds remaining. With the Magic going smaller to match up with the Edge’s guard-centric lineup, and with Corey Allmond laid up with an ankle issue, Denzell Taylor was the only other player to see the floor for more than a minute. Performances like his 11-point, 10 rebound, 2 block outing in 32 minutes are, unfortunately for opposing frontcourts, becoming alarmingly dependable.
4. The Edge’s offensive philosophy isn’t rocket science.
That isn’t my way of calling it simplistic or flawed, not at all. However, it’s certainly taking the strategies of the modern game and nudging them toward their outer limits. They spread you out....WAY out....and rely on their principles and talent to create open looks, preferably from beyond the arc. Over half of the shots the Edge have attempted through three games have been from distance, a whopping 125, a mark that…wait for it…makes them SECOND in the league in that category (I see you Jaylen Bland and Braylon Rayson up there in Northern Ontario). In the Magic’s previous game, it felt as if the Cape Breton Highlanders went entire quarters without taking a shot from outside the key. At times, it seems like the only reason the Edge are taking a shot INSIDE the three-point line is because they tripped over it. The volume of distance shooting hasn’t been the issue with their 1-2 start however, as they’re making them at a strong 41% clip. Their TOTAL number of shots though, falls short of their opponents while their turnover margin is one of the best in the league. That tells me their pace of play must, and likely will, pick up. The other issue is that they aren’t creating any second shot opportunities. They have vacuumed in just over 7 offensive rebounds per game on average through three games, a mark over 4 boards fewer than the next worst team in the league. It’s REALLY early, the Edge didn’t have any preseason games to iron out any kinks, and some of these numbers tend to even out in the long run. So, the panic button can remain safely put away, but these are things worth tracking if you’re an Edge fan.
5. See above re: early season numbers, but let’s talk a little bit about the Magic at the defensive end.
Moncton presently leads the league in shooting % on the offensive end, at 48.5%. At a mark of under 41%, they hold opponents to the lowest numbers on the other side of the ball as well. I know outside observers look at my infatuation with Denzell Taylor as restraining-order worthy, but the man was deserving of all-defensive team consideration LAST season when he averaged barely 21 minutes a game. With a huge bump there, he’ll be amongst the league leaders in blocks and boards and that recognition should come. Billy White has been an underrated force on that end for quite awhile, along with Corey Allmond, and many of the newcomers rank from solid to tremendous on that end. Wayne McCullough could be a shut-down guy as the season progresses. Zeke Marshall may not be a factor this weekend on the Rock, but he should rank among the league leaders in blocks himself. I could go on and on…..and I will in other columns, but don’t sleep on this Magic squad defensively.
6. Matchup to watch:
Maurice Jones Sr. had as much trouble getting his shot to fall as his fellow point guard Jahii Carson in game one. However, he had a huge three-point play late, and has been getting to the line at will and making over 85% of his shots when he gets there, which is important considering he’s shooting just 28.6% from the field so far this season. With Carl English (2-11 from three on Friday) still working his way into shape and Junior Cadougan’s status unknown, and with Corey Allmond out for his second game in a row, the outcome of the rematch may ride on which point guard sees the ball go through the hoop. Carson was spectacular in his first game back from concussion protocol. If his performance more closely resembles the one of a week ago today, it could make the difference for the Magic.