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It’s the penultimate Wednesday night of the NBA season.
The home team, the Orlando Magic, is fighting far harder than they should probably have to against the New York Knicks, the worst team in the league.
The Magic almost certainly need a win for a chance to stay in the chase for an Eastern Conference Playoff berth, something they haven’t achieved in seven seasons, back when Stan Van Gundy was still the head coach and Dwight Howard made First Team All-NBA.
With just over a minute to go in the third, the Knicks, whose five-man bench on this evening is composed of four part-time G-Leaguers and Lance Thomas, are somehow within two. Few in the Amway Center seem to care very much, an ignominy of playing in perhaps the NBA’s most oft-forgotten city. Save for the Magic diehards (I see you), they get far less attention than any team fighting for its playoff life should.
And then, suddenly, Terrence Ross takes the stage. He scores nine points in the last 65 seconds of the quarter, all on 3-pointers, and just like that, the game is essentially over. For a brief moment, the crowd comes alive, sounding how an arena that houses a major pro sports franchise should when someone on the home team does something spectacular. And this was pretty spectacular.
Then, just like that, the frenzy recedes. We’re back in the town that’s dominated by a mouse with oversized ears.
With a somewhat challenging slate remaining, the Magic may not make the playoffs. Most fans across the country will probably be happy about that because it will likely mean both that Dwyane Wade’s retirement tour is extended and that the Brooklyn Nets will complete the “back from the dead” narrative NBA media people seem to love so very much.
If that is indeed the case, the playoffs will be missing out on one of the great unheralded sideshows of this NBA season, and one that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention.
The last of Ross’ deep balls to close out the third was his 200th of the season. Before the Curryfication of the NBA, hitting that many 3s with above average efficiency (Ross is at 37 percent) was a cause for celebration. Now it’s meh. If Ross finishes with this conversion rate, it’ll be the 66th time the feat has been accomplished, 40 of which have happened since 2014, mostly by All-Star level players.
The reason we should all be paying a little more attention to it is that never before in NBA history has someone hit both marks coming exclusively off the bench, as Ross has every game. Wayne Ellington did it while starting twice last year, but was exclusively a long-range threat, finishing with fewer 2-point makes than games played. Eric Gordon accomplished the feat and started only 15 games the year before that, and was named Sixth Man of the Year for his trouble.
Ross likely won’t finish among the top three for the award this year, and yet without him, there’s virtually no chance the Magic would be where they are. The flamethrower has hit five of more 3-pointers in a game a dozen times this season — one fewer than Klay Thompson — and Orlando is 8-4 in those contests. Along with D.J. Augustin, he is the only legitimate deep threat the Magic have.
Nothing against the Nets or Heat, but here’s hoping the Magic can sneak into the postseason (they’re currently in 8th place) so the rest of the country can get a small taste of what they’ve been missing.
#Content you can’t miss
Howard Beck interviewed a bunch of NBA executives who try to talk big free agents going to Brooklyn or the Clippers into existence.
ESPN’s experts give their most updated awards predictions, and they’re about as predictable as you’d expect.
A wonderful walk down memory lane for Knick fans.
Lastly, one more piece about LeBron’s failed season in LA, because really, there’s no such thing as too many of those.