After trading Dwight Howard and not getting a heck of a whole lot in return, the Orlando Magic were left for dead by everyone — yours truly included. But after taking out a hot Minnesota team and improving to a very respectable 11-13 record on the season, Glen “Big Baby” Davis made it clear in a postgame rant (that likely included quite a bit of spittle) that the Magic will compete, no matter what. With that in mind, we’ve got Monday’s world-beaters all lined up for you in a pretty row. To Three Stars:
Third Star: Jeremy Lin – (22 points, 8 assists, 9-for-15 shooting)
You can’t talk about underdogs without mentioning Jeremy Lin, right? It’s funny. Leading up to the game, there was plenty of talk about how the Knicks dodged a serious bullet, how much better Raymond Felton was, and how this whole Linsanity thing was a fluke. You would think we would have learned our lesson in doubting Lin the first time around, no? Lin was electric in his return to Madison Square Garden, breaking out of his slump to score 16 points in the first half and propel the Rockets past a Knicks team that struggled to get up and down the floor. Am I implying that everything is just fine with Lin based on this one game? Of course not. I would suggest, however, that there’s a very good chance Lin won’t be as bad as he’s been early this year, just like he probably won’t be as good as he was during that magical run in New York. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.
Second Star: Serge Ibaka – (25 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks)
With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin licking their chops against a Spurs team with no Kawhi Leonard or Manu Ginobili out on the wing, what are the odds that Serge Ibaka would lead the Thunder in scoring for the first time all year? As unlikely as it seems, Ibaka has very quietly been a really good offensive player this season. Ibaka’s scoring averages have spiked from 9.1 a game last year to 14.2 this season, and he’s shooting a ridiculous 49 percent from 16-23 feet — which is approaching Dirk Nowitzki territory (51 percent in 2012). Ibaka’s leap and Oklahoma City’s 20-4 record have both oddly gone under the radar, but this big night against Tim Duncan and company should at least temporarily divert some eyeballs from the disaster in Los Angeles and redirect them towards the team that’s playing the best basketball in the league right now.
First Star: Glen “Big Baby” Davis – (28 points on 13-for-17 shooting)
You won’t find many players who will balk at the chance to be their team’s top scoring option, but it’s a heavy burden to carry. Defenses game plan specifically for you. Double-teams come your way, help defense is a little faster. There’s a big target on your back. Glen Davis has never really experienced that until this year, and it’s been an interesting exercise to watch him deal with it alongside Arron Afflalo. A primary result of the increased touches has been a lot more long jumpers this year — a somewhat necessary evil given Orlando’s lack of players who can penetrate. That said though, when Davis has a lane to drive or can get the ball in good position, he’s half walrus/half ballerina in the paint, dancing around and bouncing off defenders to throw in tough flip shots. Davis was able to dominate the paint offensively, eschewing jumpers for layups all night to help the Magic pull off a big comeback at home. It was rarely pretty for Davis — and it rarely will be for Orlando — but there’s a beauty in not needing that to be successful.