Andres Nocioni drove the lane as Sacramento looked to extend a late third-quarter lead. Sacramento’s pick and roll and 3-point shooting had helped it take control for most of the night. Nocioni could expect maybe a late rotation or an easy kick out to a relatively open shooter or even a clear path to the lane.
When facing the Magic, though, the lane is rarely clear. And when Nocioni flipped a shot toward the rim, Dwight Howard swooped into action. Howard grabbed the ball out of mid air with his left hand, starting a Magic fast break and helping them even the score at 78 by the end of the quarter.
The play seemingly awoke a team still playing on East Coast time and helped spur an 18-4 run to start the fourth quarter. Howard had a lot to do with it on both ends as he poured in a season-high 30 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to go along with five assists to help Orlando start its four-game West Coast swing with a 109-88 win at ARCO Arena on Tuesday.
Howard showed a lot of improvement and patience in his offensive game, simply dominating Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson and whoever else the Kings could throw at him throughout the contest. Howard shot nine of 15 from the field and hit on 12 of his 17 free throw attempts.
With the Magic’s other star players struggling from the field, Howard’s effort was a big reason why Orlando was able to stay close and eventually pull away. It was the kind of gargantuan effort Howard’s broad shoulders were built for — you know, to carry the team.
Dwight certainly was not alone as the Magic beat the Kings 33-10 in the final quarter. The bench stepped up and made its presence felt as Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis struggled in this game. Mickael Pietrus had 18 points and Jason Williams and Ryan Anderson each had 12 off the bench and played most of the fourth quarter.
In the end, it seemed, Orlando’s depth was too much for the young Sacramento squad to handle.
The Kings played a very strong three quarters, taking advantage of some slow pick and roll defense and hitting a good chunk of their 3-pointers. Sacramento hit on six of its 14 attempts at the half to take control of the game heading into the locker room.
But the young Kings could not keep the shots falling and with their star rookie Tyreke Evans struggling from the field — 18 points on 5-for-16 shooting — they could not survive an offensive and defensive onslaught the Magic put on them in the fourth quarter.
Howard’s dominance was real nice to see. Again, with Sacramento having virtually nobody who could guard him the team set to fouling him and doubling him like crazy. Howard really showed a lot of patience and found open shooters and reposted, or made his move quickly and away from the double for his good looks.
So far this season, critics have bemoaned Howard’s still undeveloped post game. But this is one area where Howard has shown a lot of improvement. For the most part, he takes care of the ball and attacks at the right position. Now, doing it against Sacramento is a lot different than doing it against Boston.
Howard and the bench had to do a lot of the heavy lifting tonight with Nelson and Lewis struggling from the floor. The two shot a combined six for 18 from the floor and three for nine from beyond the arc. Neither could really get going, although Nelson ended up contributing in the third quarter as Orlando tried to keep up.
It is difficult to determine why this happened. Nelson obviously had a tough matchup in whoever was guarding him with the 6-foot-5 Tyreke Evans manning the point for Sacramento. But he eventually contributed a decent 10 points. Tougher to say what Lewis was doing. He seemed to disappear in the second half.
Whatever the case, maybe chalk it up to a bad matchup or the first game of West Coast swing, Orlando needs both of those guys to play well to win the three remaining games on this trip — starting with Wednesday’s showdown in Denver.
Overall though, this was a solid game from Orlando. The Magic had to hang around and bide their time in the first three quarters. But when push came to shove in the final 12 minutes, Orlando dominated like only really good teams can do.