Howard Saves the Day

Jameer Nelson has established himself as the Magic’s closer. He has had that moniker since his sophomore year when he hit a couple big shots against Detroit and Phoenix in his sophomore year and then solidified it with a couple of big shots on Saturday night road games. He hit game-winners against New Jersey and Indiana the last two weeks to give Orlando the deciding lead.

So on a night where offensive rebounding was an issue and the young Washington Wizards were outworking and outhustling the Magic, it came down to Jameer Nelson, the defense and the clock once again. Nelson was not going to be the one to close tonight though.

He came across a Dwight Howard screen and drew JaVale McGee on him. The long-armed McGee forced Nelson to hoist a high-arcing shot that was woefully short of the basket. But Howard was rolling down the paint and kept his eyes glued on the ball. Howard grabbed the shot and flipped it into the basket in one motion. Orlando had a 100-99 lead with four seconds left.

Gilbert Arenas drove past Mickael Pietrus on the next possession, but his floater hit off the back rim. And Orlando escaped a Saturday night once again.

Howard’s 31st and 32nd points of the evening capped off a strong individual offensive game for the Magic All Star. Other than that, it was another seemingly lackadaisical effort from Orlando — eerily similar to Friday’s win over Cleveland.

The Magic raced out to a lead in the second quarter and seemed to have things under control. Washington was completely outworking Orlando but failing to cash in on offensive rebounds. When Gilbert Arenas and Nick Young started to get the offense going and attack the basket, Orlando was facing some trouble.

Arenas started looking like his old self in the third quarter as he started to attack the basket with reckless abandon. His shot is still slow to come around — he shot nine for 23 — but he scored 31 points and got to the line to make 12 of 14 attempts. But Arenas forcing the issue challenged Orlando’s defense and the team largely struggled to clean up his misses.

Washington grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Orlando 47-38. And Washington worked for all 16 of those offensive rebounds often making Orlando work to secure even the easiest rebounds. Guard Alonzo Gee grabbed five offensive rebounds for an 18.2 percent offensive rebounding percentage, according to the Advanced Stats Calculator. Andray Blatched chipped in 13 rebounds and JaVale McGee had nine rebounds.

The Wizards were working hard to get to the basket and the Magic were largely allowing them to do it.

Howard was the leading rebounder with 11 boards and four on the offensive end. Mickael Pietrus was second on the team with seven boards. But the rebounding was an issue all night and continued to cause a headache. And it was indicative of another lackadaisical defensive effort.

Washington shot just 45.0 percent from the floor, but hit a relatively efficient seven for 16 from beyond the arc. That would be good for a 112.1 offensive rating according to the Advanced Stats Calculator. As you can see, that number is not very good. Orlando’s usually fleet-footed defense was sometimes quite flat and Washington was able to get into the paint.

Luckily for the Magic, the offense was once again up to the task of stopping the bleeding. Even down six late in the game, Orlando found answers to come back in the form of Jameer Nelson, Quentin Richardson and Dwight Howard.

Nelson finished with 11 points and four assists, shooting only five for 11 from the floor. Richardson turned in a second straight solid game, pacing Orlando with 20 points and hitting four of five 3-point attempts.

But offensively this night belonged to Howard. Washington was bringing a double down on him from the perimeter, but toward the end Washington elected to single cover and foul. Howard hit eight of 14 free throws on the evening. But found ways to stay involved. The games final tip in was a sign of that.

The broadcast pointed this out that a lot of teams, even some of the bad ones, are electing to single cover Howard and then take their chances with free throws late in the game. Howard is soon going to demand a double team with the way his offensive game has grown. Tonight he made Washington pay in the end.

And Van Gundy said it best. Orlando is learning a lot about itself without losing. And, to him, that is a good thing. But there is still a lot to learn. After a fantastic game Wednesday night against the Heat, the Magic have put forth inconsistent efforts against some weaker competition. 

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily