Dwight Howard has been dominating everything for Orlando in recent weeks. He has dominated with his stellar defense and rebounding. He has dominated with his expanding offensive moves. He has dominated postgame interviews with his little Shaquille O’Neal spat. He even has dominated the Guinness Book of World Records until recently with his 50-foot shot while seated.
It has been a long while since Howard has tested the Magic’s depth by picking up two quick fouls and heading disappointingly to the bench. It has been a long time since Marcin Gortat has needed to do more than play fill-in minutes at the beginning of the second quarter.
So when Howard picked up two quick fouls against the smaller and crafty Houston post players and Gortat came running on to the floor, who knew what to expect after such a long absence. Gortat has hardly been a factor as Howard has matured and Stan Van Gundy has relied on Howard more and more.
But remember it was the Rockets and their general manager Daryl Morey who set up an e-mail account to try and get Gortat to sign an offer sheet in Houston. The “Polish Hammer” (his other nickname is apparently blacklisted by our Web site software. Sorry, Marcin) reminded everyone why he was so sought after and why he is still valuable to Orlando as the team took control of the game in the first half.
Gortat scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in 14 minutes, the most he has played since playing 17 minutes against Cleveland on Feb. 11, to help spark Orlando to a five-point first-quarter lead. Gortat was certainly not alone in providing an early spark of energy (he had three offensive rebounds as well) as Jameer Nelson also helped keep Orlando afloat.
Because in the second quarter, Dwight Howard took over as only a superstar can. Howard may not have been there at the beginning, but, in playing most of the rest of the game, he certainly finished the game. Howard scored 30 points on 11-for-11 shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds, demanding double teams and abusing the same crafty centers who drew him into foul trouble early.
Orlando took as much as a 26-point lead in the third quarter and held on for a 110-92 win at Toyota Center on Wednesday over Houston.
The Rockets without Yao Ming do not provide the same problems in the post as they would, sending out the undersized Chuck Hayes along with Luis Scola and jump shot-happy David Andersen to go up against Howard and Gortat. But the play of Gortat at the beginning to give Orlando the energy to stay in the game and take the lead and then eventually of Howard showed how valuable having those two can be.
Howard was what Howard usually is. He was patient and worked for his scoring opportunities while looking for jump shooters. But without Gortat’s efforts early who knows what would have happened in this game?
Credit to Gortat for being able to come off after virtually not playing for a very long time and providing very good minutes for Orlando when the team needed them. His energy helped feed the fantastic games from Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter, who also stepped up as Howard went to the bench early.
Looking at Nelson and Carter’s scoring numbers, it certainly did not look like they stepped up. But go a little further and look at the assists and it is clear they had an impact on the game. Nelson had 17 points and nine assists and Carter scored 16 points to go with seven assists.
The two played much like they did Sunday against Cleveland. They picked their spots, hit jumpers when they had them and found the open player when it was not there. Nelson was seven of 15 from the floor and Carter was six of nine.
These two players have probably been criticized more than any other on the team throughout the season, but they are really starting to find a comfort level within the offense and are flourishing.
The only problem tonight was what happened when Orlando took a 26-point lead. Houston inevitably made its run and the defense got a little lazy.
Aaron Brooks continues to be a wonder as he scored 24 points (on 9-of-22 shooting) and dished out eight assists. Kevin Martin also started to find his rhythm with his new team scoring 17 of his 19 points in the second half. The Rockets shot 12 of 24 from beyond the arc and cut the lead to eight at one point in the fourth quarter.
The game, in other words, was much closer than it should have been.
Houston gambled a bit with a small lineup featuring Andersen at center trying to draw Howard away from the basket. And it paid off, but not necessarily by anything the Rockets did. Howard still got what he wanted in the post and whenever the Magic needed a bucket they went inside to Howard for a score or found Carter, Nelson or Lewis (13 points, 6-of-15 shooting) for crucial baskets.
The 3-pointers were just not falling tonight.
JJ Redick was a forgettable three of 12 and zero for six from beyond the arc. Mickael Pietrus also disappeared as he shot two for eight from the floor. In all, the Magic shot nine of 31 from beyond the arc.
It is important that the Magic won this game despite struggling from the 3-point line. That is something they failed to do last week against the Mavericks at home.