It started with the first defensive play of the game. Kyrie Irving's pass was too careless and Victor Oladipo bounded in front of it, tapping it ahead before easily laying it in for the first two points of his night. Before the game ended, he would score 43 more.
Oladipo's career high wasn't enough for the Magic to beat the Cavaliers, who still prevailed 109-103 despite Orlando entering the fourth quarter with a three-point lead. But it was an incredible night for Oladipo nevertheless, whose 45 points came on 16-of-22 shooting with six made three-pointers, five rebounds, three steals and a couple blocks.
After that initial layup, Oladipo posted a 16-point first quarter and hardly looked back the rest of his night. Oladipo's jump shot is what has held him back through the first three years of his career, but on nights like Friday, you wonder why Oladipo hasn't figured it out. From start to finish, Oladipo's stroke looked sharp and confident. It wasn't just his six made three-pointers on seven attempts -- Oladipo actively looked for mid-range shots, stepping back comfortably to shoot over bigger defenders while still hitting several difficult layup attempts at the rim.
Orlando's in a strange place as a team. They wanted to push for the playoffs this year, and for a couple months, it looked like they would. On Dec. 30, they were 19-13, looking like a prime candidate to nab one of the East's final spots. But by the All-Star break, they had fallen all the way to 23-29, winning just four games in 2016. Now just the No. 12 seed in the East, their playoff hopes are done.
Still, Orlando's building an interesting core, and nights like Friday from Oladipo only reinforce the idea that they're doing something right. Since the All-Star break, Oladipo's averaging 19 points on 46-percent shooting, both significant increases over his season totals, although he's only connecting on 30 percent of his three-point shots. The oldest player playing a significant role in Orlando is recently acquired Brandon Jennings, and he's still just 26. Even center Nikola Vucevic, who it feels like has been with the Magic forever, is still 25.
This summer should be a fascinating one for Orlando. There's still plenty of development left for the Magic, but they'd like to accelerate that development by earning a first-round playoff berth, even as an eighth seed. If they can snare a big-name free agent, that would only speed up their process quicker. The talent exists on the roster -- now it's figuring out how to best use it and whether it actually fits together. It's certainly possible the Magic will need to move someone beyond Tobias Harris, who was shipped out at the trade deadline. But with nights like this, the next person out of town probably won't be Oladipo.
2 more things from Friday
Golden State tied an NBA record with 15 three-pointers in the first half and tied a franchise record when they finished the game with 22 makes. It was no fault of the Mavericks, who hung with the Warriors until late in the fourth quarter despite Chandler Parsons leaving with a hamstring injury early in the third quarter. Dallas players were even optimistic in the locker room after the game, understanding that sometimes, Golden State just "outshoots" you.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 70 points, with Thompson knocking down 10 three-pointers, but they also both logged 36 minutes. On Saturday, the Warriors will travel to San Antonio to face the Spurs in a highly-anticipated matchup. Andrew Bogut is doubtful to play with a sprained big toe, but Steve Kerr will play the rest of his stars -- joking that he just doesn't have the guts that Gregg Popovich has to rest everyone on the second night of a back-to-back.
Golden State won decisively in the team's first meeting, but Saturday's matchup will be the first of three more meetings. With a four-game lead for the No. 1 seed, there's no real concerns about the Warriors losing their top spot in the conference, but the coming games should be a fascinating preview for the potential Western Conference Finals series everyone's eagerly anticipating. You just don't see teams that are 62-6 and 58-10 play each other, well, ever.
The bottom of the West is still a jumble
Despite the Mavericks putting up a good fight against the Warriors, the loss means they've fallen below .500 for the first time since early November with seven losses in their last eight games. The Trail Blazers, still hanging onto the No. 6 seed, have lost six of their last eight games before grinding out a win against New Orleans on Friday. On the other end of the spectrum, the Houston Rockets are pushing back up with wins in five of their last seven, while the Utah Jazz boast a four-game winning streak after demolishing the listless Suns on Thursday.
Despite all the movement there, just two games separate the four teams. Meanwhile, the Memphis Grizzlies are collapsing, barely able to field a team as injuries ravage their roster. Perhaps the playoff picture will begin forming in this coming week: the Mavericks and Blazers play each other in a home-and-home series on Sunday and Wednesday, while Utah and Houston square off next Wednesday. But with the way things have gone, those games actually just leave us more confused than we were at the start of everything.
Play of the night
Oh Russ. So great.
4 fun things
We were in Dallas and watched Curry's warm-up routine. The craziest thing isn't Steph, but the attention he draws.