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McGrady is magical

Orlando opens with 97-86 win over the Wizards; newcomer scores a career-high 32 points.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


photo
[AP photo]
Washington's Rod Strickland looks on as Tracy McGrady throws down two of his 32 points.
ORLANDO -- The Grant Hill era began for the Magic on Tuesday night.

Hold it.

Make that the Tracy McGrady era.

Hill clearly is the bigger of the two -- not in size but in reputation. He is a six-year veteran and was a five-time All-Star with Detroit, compared with McGrady's three seasons since jumping to Toronto straight out of high school.

But each 6-foot-8 forward got a seven-year, $93-million contract from the Magic, the maximum they could get under NBA guidelines. And the Magic cashed in Tuesday night with a 97-86 season-opening victory over Washington.

Hill was good. As the game wore on, he began favoring the left ankle that broke last season and was surgically repaired in the off-season. He finished with nine points.

McGrady was better. A lot better: a career-high 32 points plus 12 rebounds in 46 minutes.

"I could have played 48 minutes," he said. "I had a lot of energy. I was really pumped up. ... The fans were really into it, and I feed off them. I feed off my teammates. I felt I could score at any given time."

"Tracy was terrific, and early on he might have to be with Grant going up and down," Magic coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought Grant really looked good for stretches."

It was Rivers' call to bench Hill for the final 31/2 minutes, long after trainer Ted Arzonico started telling his coach to pull him. "I thought he was going to punch me," Rivers said. "He kept yelling, "He's limping!' I was trying to ignore him, to see if Grant could play through it."

When the Magic built a 10-point lead in the closing minutes, Rivers said he figured he might be able to get away with pulling Hill. "I thought we had enough points to win the game, that defensively we could keep them from scoring 10 points," Rivers said. Whether he might be more inclined to save Hill for late in a game, when the Magic might need him more, Rivers said: "It's a tough call. What Grant said to me was, "The more you keep me out, the stiffer (the ankle) gets. The longer I'm on the floor, the more fatigued it gets.' "

The Magic was able to take advantage of the Wizards' defensive mismatch against McGrady. Most of the game, 6-5 point guard Mitch Richmond guarded him.

"My thought was, make them take somebody out," Rivers said. "They shouldn't be allowed to play a 6-4, 6-5 guy on Tracy without us taking advantage of it. It forces the other team to stay with a small point guard or take him out."

So Rivers called set plays, a slowdown game of sorts, to exploit the advantage.

"He played well," Richmond said of McGrady. "I have never seen him in that situation. ... He's taking over the game now and getting a lot of opportunities. I saw him on a lot of isolation plays, and he took advantage of it. ... He was making the jump shot."

The Magic were forced into what he called "a slow, boring, walk-the-ball-up game. ... They put us to sleep with their style."

After pulling out to a 51-37 lead with about 31/2 minutes to go in the first half, Orlando let the Wizards creep back until they tied it 66-66 with 4:34 left in the third quarter. But McGrady's running jump shot and free throw ended a five-point burst, and the Wizards never got closer.

Rivers said he is inclined to start Hill tonight at Miami: "How long he'll play, I don't know."

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