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Magic Numbers

Orlando MagicIn order to take a deeper look at the 31-8 Orlando Magic, we dissected a few numbers to get a grip on perhaps the NBA’s most surprisingly good team after the same group of players finished 52-30 last season before losing to Detroit in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

Sandwiched between Cleveland and Boston at the top of the Eastern Conference standings this season (the Magic have yet to play the Cavs and lost once to the Celtics), Orlando pulled out a last-second win against the Lakers on Dec. 20 when Sasha Vujacic’s three rimmed out. They’ve beaten San Antonio twice, New Orleans, Utah and Portland, and probably deserve to be factored in to any Eastern conversation.

Perhaps Orlando’s biggest advantage is their unconventional matchup capability; Because Howard’s able to handle the paint defensively almost by himself, the Magic can get by with playing a smaller four (Rashard Lewis) who can stretch the floor extensively on offense. Yet the biggest reason for Orlando’s improvement this season has been the outstanding play of Jameer Nelson, which we’ll get into with some numbers:

Average blocks per game by Dwight Howard, by far tops in the league. Howard also led the NBA in rebounding with 13.8 per evening before Marcus Camby jumped him (13.9) this week. Head coach Stan Van Gundy has long held that he wants Howard to focus on the boards and protecting the paint, and the team’s 31-8 record is surely a product of that.

Assists averaged by point guard Jameer Nelson to lead Orlando. Nelson, who averages 16.6 points and shoots the ball at over a 50 percent clip (50.8), has been playing at what Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw called “an All-Star level,” and has been a paramount reason for the Magic’s success. Because he’s hitting at such a high rate with his jumper, Nelson can’t be ignored on offense, whereas last season Shaw said L.A. would have its guards go underneath on pick and rolls (letting him shoot, like he were Rajon Rondo). Since that’s no longer the case, there isn’t a player on Orlando’s perimeter that can be left alone on the perimeter – thus all the open looks from three.

Wins for Orlando, tying L.A. for second in the league and trailing only Boston’s 32 victories.

Minutes per game played by Hedo Turkoglu to lead the Magic. Rashard Lewis is next with 36.7 minutes, and Howard third with 36.2, the same number as Kobe Bryant. Due to L.A.’s recent backcourt injuries, Bryant’s in the minutes per game top 40 (39) for the first time this season, but with Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton probably back for Friday’s game, his minutes should come back down.

Nelson’s three-point percentage, which leads the team and is 5th in the league. Close behind are rookie Courtney Lee (43.9), J.J. Redick (43.1), Lewis (41.8) and former Laker Brian Cook, who plays only seven minutes a game (meaning his percentage doesn’t qualify among league leaders) but hits 47.6 percent of his threes.

Percent shooting by the Magic in Orlando’s 106-103 win on Dec. 20 over the Lakers near Disney World. The Magic shot 40 percent (12-of-30) from three, though they did struggle from the free throw line, making just 24-of-39 shots (61.5) while the Lakers made 24-of-25 (96 percent).

Howard’s field goal percentage, fourth in the NBA and just ahead of Pau Gasol’s 55.3 percent. Clearly Gasol is a better shooter, but most of Howard’s buckets still come from within 5-10 feet of the rim.

Three pointers attempted by Lewis, by far the most in the league. Lewis, who also leads the league in makes (114), takes a whopping 48 percent of his shots from behind the arc, and at 6-10 with a quick release and a smooth stroke, don’t expect that number to go down.