Orlando is a fine town. The Amway Center is terrific (from a reporter’s perspective, it should be the standard that all arenas are modeled after. The ease of travel from media room to locker rooms to your seat is splendid). But if you’re getting set to head to Miami for New Year’s Eve, who wouldn’t be looking ahead?
Well the easy answer here is any professional athlete who makes millions and takes their job seriously. And that’s absolutely true. But despite all that, it’s only natural to look ahead to New Year’s in South Beach and a showdown with the defending champs.
The Warriors didn’t do that. They straight up took care of business. The starters jumped out early in the first quarter. And in a sign of good things to come, the reserves closed out the first quarter by maintaining the lead. When the starters returned in the second, the lead swelled to 23 by halftime.
You saw a focused team that played its “A” game offensively and defensively and blew out a team that, quite honestly, it should blow out. The Magic just aren’t very good. Arron Afflalo is a darn good player (Mark Jackson thinks he’s an All Star), but when Nikola Vucevic sprained his ankle in the first quarter, Orlando had no one to protect the paint. The Warriors took advantage with 42 points in the paint, 16 of which came in that first quarter.
We all know the Dubs are an outside shooting team. They’ve been successful doing so because they have some elite shooters. But easy buckets inside are always helpful, especially on nights when the shots aren’t falling. David Lee followed up his 19-point second half against Cleveland with 22 points in a game in which all starters played abbreviated minutes. He’s starting to look like the All Star he was last year.
But, like I wrote in the game story, the best development was the play of the bench. Even after the Warriors’ 23-point halftime lead slipped to 15 in the third quarter, Jackson started the fourth with the reserves. What happened?
Kent Bazemore hit a big 3-pointer early in the period that got them going and the bench got the lead back up to 22 at one point before a token 12-3 Magic run at the end made the final score look a wee better. Technically, the bench allowed two points to be trimmed from the lead during the fourth but in reality, they outplayed the Magic and made sure the starters got some rest — an important factor even with it still being early on this long road trip.
So the Dubs got their 20th win before we hit the new year and are back on pace for a 50-win season (OK, so it’s 49.6, but we’ll round up here). Those worries when the team slipped to 13-12? Gone. They are back looking like the playoff team we expected and the opportunity to play these weaker Eastern Conference teams should only help the record. The next two will be challenging against the East’s current Nos. 2 and 3 teams — Miami and Atlanta. But Atlanta just recently lost to Orlando and you saw what Orlando looks like. If the Warriors can beat the Heat on Thursday, we can start gathering steam talking about a potential perfect trip.
But that would be getting ahead of ourselves, exactly what I’m crediting the Warriors for not doing. So for now, we’ll just look forward to facing LeBron and the Heat. Hopefully the players don’t enjoy South Beach toooo much.