In what has become a routine, the Orlando Magic kept it close and pulled away in the fourth quarter, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 97-86 to capture their franchise-record eighth consecutive road victory.
Dwight Howard absolutely dominated, leading the Magic in all five of the primary statistical categories: 25 points, 11 rebounds, 7 blocks, 5 assists and 2 steals. He held Chris Kaman to an 8-of-22 shooting performance, gradually forcing Kaman away from the basket; Kaman went 2-of-10 from outside the paint. Howard, is clearly out of the slump that plagued him through the first part of this season — he’s back dominating defensively and on the boards.
Howard, celebrating his 24th birthday, played 43 minutes, leaving very little time for Marcin Gortat (5 minutes) or Brandon Bass (0 minutes) to see the floor.
The Magic increased their focus in the second half, limiting themselves to five turnovers (compared to 12 in the first half) and holding the Clippers to 39 points (47 in the first half).
The Magic held the Clippers scoreless on seven of the first eight possessions in the fourth quarter, consequently increasing their four-point lead to 82-71 before the Clippers even scored a field goal. From there, the Magic cruised.
Much of the Magic’s defensive improvement can be attributed to a subtle yet significant move: they stopped helping Jason Williams out on Baron Davis.
Davis, a super-strong point guard who feasts on smaller guards such as Williams, forced the Magic to bring a second defender because of his physical superiority to J-Will. The shading defender opened things up for the Clippers, who got a lot of inside baskets early in the game.
Then the Magic tried switching Williams to Eric Gordon, but Gordon took Williams down into the post and forced the Magic out of it.
The next logical move was to replace Williams with Anthony Johnson — a move that may have been the difference in the game. Johnson played admirably both offensively and defensively; he had 6 points and 4 assists and held Davis to zero meaningful field goals in the fourth quarter (note: Davis hit an insignificant three-pointer in the final seconds).
And while J-Will, a competitive guy, might not have been happy with the switch, Stan Van Gundy thinks he understood.
“He may not agree with me, but he knows why,” Van Gundy said after the game.
It was another win to be proud of for the Orlando Magic — the Clippers are a good team, and winning on the West Coast is never easy. The record number of road games may not matter to the Magic, but it’s just another accolade this Magic team can claim.
“We don’t do anything different than we do at home,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t have any idea.”
The Magic are now 2-0 on their West Coast swing, with games against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns losing. Splitting those games and going 3-1 on the trip would be impressive — going 4-0 would be unbelievable.