From his days as a player, and as a head coach, Scott Skiles has been known for toughness.
And any team he’s coached in the NBA has taken on that personality.
Skiles already is having that effect in his first season overseeing the Orlando Magic. Orlando has shown signs of being the kind of defensive unit that is the trademark of Skiles’ teams.
Entering Saturday’s 97-91 loss to the Kings, Orlando (6-7) held opponents to 42.3 percent shooting, fourth best in the NBA.
Skiles is as tough as ever on his players. He benched his starting center, Nikola Vucevic, for the second half of Wednesday’s overtime win over visiting Minnesota.
42.3 Magic’s defensive field-goal percentage entering Saturday, fourth-best in the NBA
The intention was not to sit Vucevic for the entire half, but when the replacements played better, Skiles didn’t reinsert Vucevic.
“Like we are with all of our guys, as good as he is – and he’s really, really talented – we want more,” Skiles said. “We want more consistency; we want more effort.”
The Magic has good pieces for Skiles to work with after many years of selecting in the lottery. Guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton have the potential to be as fiesty a defensive duo as there is in the league.
In addition to Vucevic, Tobias Harris is a talent at forward, and the bench includes the Magic’s last two lottery picks, forward Aaron Gordon and guard Mario Hezonja.
With Skiles demanding the most from the team, the Magic could surprise and make the playoffs.
If the Magic doesn’t reach the postseason, it will not be because Skiles wasn’t hard on the team.
Being the grinder that he is, Skiles might prefer to have a few more practices with more contact. But when the Magic had two days off last week before hosting Sacramento, Skiles said the Magic got a lot of work done, even without contact.
“We have a lot of things that we have to work on still,” Skiles said. “We’re that type of team, so we’ve got to get in, work on them and just hope that my staff and I are making the proper judgments on how much to do, how little, when to get rest.”
Indiana’s Paul George made it clear before the start of the season he was not excited about playing some power forward. He’d already been an All-Star small forward, but the Pacers, like most of the NBA, wanted to play faster.
That’s not nearly as big a topic these days. Rather it’s George’s play.
George played in only six games last season after breaking his leg as a member of Team USA last July. This season, George is averaging 25.3 points, sixth in the NBA entering Saturday. That’s almost four more points above his career high of 21.7 in 2013-14.
So whether you call George a small or power forward, you’ll probably be calling him an All-Star in February.
25.3 Points per game by Indiana forward Paul George, sixth in the NBA entering Saturday
Ty Lawson has failed to produce the way the Rockets had hoped since he arrived via a July trade. Coach Kevin McHale already has been fired over the team’s lackluster start.
One of interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s first moves was to bench Lawson, who is shooting a miserable 31.9 percent this season while averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 assists.
Meanwhile Lawson’s former team, Denver, already has beaten the Rockets twice and has played inspired basketball with rookie Emmanuel Mudiay running the team in place of Lawson.
Lawson also pleaded guilty on Thursday to drunken driving after being arrested in Denver in January.
Not long ago, Lawson was considered a potential All-Star. Now he’s trying to salvage his career.
“We lost in the Finals. So that’s enough motivation for myself. I think we need to understand that. Like, we lost in the Finals. We didn’t win. And the team that beat us looks more hungry than we are. So it shouldn’t be that way.”
– Cleveland’s LeBron James, after the Cavaliers blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost at Detroit on Tuesday.