He predicted a Magic-San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals matchup during a break between songs at a concert at the Amway Center last Thursday night. Carlos also gave a shout-out to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was in the audience and mesmerized, like most of us were, with Santana’s searing guitar riffs.
Pop in your fuzzy-haze, cannabis-infused joke here, but Carlos may be on to something as the Magic continue their assent in the NBA power rankings. Their gritty 101-99 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies improved their record to 6-2 Wednesday night. It matches their best start since the 2009-10 season.
They are in first place in the Eastern Conference. Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it, skeptics!
OK, I know this is just a small sample size. But this feels different than the very rare occasions that the Magic have teased us with snippets of competitive heart and hustle since Dwight Howard left the building in 2012. Very light teasing, like a three-game winning streak early in the 2016-17 season before ending in a 29-53 dumpster fire.
This is looking like — dare we conjure up the ghosts of Rob Hennigan mind-speak — “a sustainable product.”
Aaron Gordon is flourishing into a budding NBA superstar. Newcomer Jonathon Simmons is giving the Magic a nice flow coming off the bench. They play of D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack have helped them overcome an injury to point guard Elfrid Payton, even though Mack will have a greater workload now because of the strained left hamstring Augustin suffered against Memphis.
Rookie Jonathan Isaac is starting to look like a keeper, burying a 3-point shot late in the game against the Grizzlies to add to his brief, impressive resume.
The NBA business model these days is the BFFs plan, where Superstar A throws a hissy fit or texts one of his Superstar B buddies in the hopes that he can join Superstar B’s sandbox. Ownership usually caves, and what we have now are a handful of star-heavy teams and a bunch of others with sand in their faces.
The Magic don’t have Superstar A, B, or C, even though I would keep an eye on Gordon. What they do have — qualifier: “at the moment” — appears to be players with different skill sets fitting in nicely into a system designed for winning and not tanking games.
Add a nice game plan, too, by coach Frank Vogel. The living large approach of 2016 with Bismack Biyombo, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic was comparable to an I-4 traffic jam. Slow, annoying, and never gets you anywhere.
The Magic wisely dumped that plodding philosophy in the middle of the season, trading Ibaka for Terrence Ross. The move also freed up floor space for Gordon, who was forced to play small forward instead of his natural spot at power forward.
The Magic aren’t clunky any more. They rank second in scoring offense to — take a deep breath here — the Golden State Warriors (121 ppg to 114.9).
Yes, it could blow up at any minute. Like all bad relationships, it’s OK to be skeptical when you suddenly get Hallmark cards, roses and thank-you notes every day. “What’s this all about?”, you may ask. It’s OK to think the Magic are unrecognizable.
Fair enough. But did I mention this team won only 29 games last season?
“These are just early signs,” Vogel said after the game in Memphis. “It’s still really early in the season. Again, we dodged a bullet with Michael Conley being out. We had a weakened opponent and we took advantage. But there were a lot of situations last year where we wouldn’t have won this game regardless.”
Enjoy the buzz. The Magic are rocking and rolling. Carlos Santana approves of this message.
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