Magic Sluggish Early, (Finally) Get Close Game

After Wednesday’s blowout win against Minnesota, someone asked Stan Van Gundy about Orlando’s propensity to play in blowouts so far this season. Van Gundy simply responded, they would come.

The final score may not indicate how close this game was, but Dwight Howard needing to catch his breath in an interview with Sun Sports’ Paul Kennedy says it all. Howard played a season-high 38 minutes tonight, far more than the 27.0 minutes per game he averaged in the first three games of the season. Howard certainly put his work in, scoring 18 of his 30 points in the first half to keep Orlando within striking distance as turnovers and poor defense allowed New Jersey to control the game.

Jameer Nelson took the reigns in the third quarter with 10 of his 20 points and six assists too as the Magic stepped up its defense and put the clamps on the Nets with a 105-90 win at Amway Center on Friday night.

Nelson controlled the pace throughout the tell-tale third quarter as Orlando outscored New Jersey 32-16 in turning a 3-point halftime deficit into a comfortable 13-point lead. The Magic pushed it to 20 at one point early in the fourth quarter and the Nets never got much closer than nine points. Nelson’s play in the third quarter was the difference as his energy began to permeate through a lethargic offense from the first half.

Nelson did what he normally does: break down players on the pick and roll and set up shooter on the perimeter (or at least get the hockey assist). Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus were helping Orlando draining 3-pointers throughout the period and backing it up with some very strong defense.

That was not the story in the first half. Orlando needed a 7-0 run to close the first half just to get it to three.

Just like how Nelson tore up the Nets’ defense in the first half, the Nets were able to pick apart the Magic using the pick and roll, displaying some of their newfound 3-point shooting. Orlando was doing a good job stopping the penetration but were slow to get back out to 3-pointers. New Jersey hit eight of its first 11 3-pointers and controlled the first half. It is hardly a good defensive effort when a guy like Kris Humphries scored 10 of his 13 points in the second quarter and Travis Outlaw was continually left alone in the corner. Outlaw led New Jersey with 17 points and hit three of his four 3-point attempts.

New Jersey was rolling and feeling good.

Orlando was sputtering. The team committed seven turnovers in the first quarter and looked a little listless as the ball was bouncing around. Howard was about the only thing Orlando could do right early in the game — and that is a big thing to be doing right, but more on him in a bit.

Throughout the first quarter, it would have been easy to have the feeling Orlando could have been up 10-15 points if not for the turnovers. But that was not the case and in the second quarter, New Jersey’s reserves proved better than Orlando’s on this night. Humphries and Outlaw did a lot of their damage in the second quarter. As did Terrence Williams, who hit three of his four 3-pointers on his way to 15 .

Those are not exactly the guys you want beating you when you play the Nets.

The Magic awoke, with Stan Van Gundy apparently reminding his players what happened last Friday night, put on a defensive display in the third quarter. Everything was much crisper as the Nets were stifled and kept in check.

New Jersey’s offensive issues could be summarized by Robin Lopez’s night. Lopez missed his first 12 shots as Dwight Howard flat out scared him all night. There may be no other way to describe it. Lopez was not out there missing jumpers, he was missing layups off of offensive rebounds and post looks. Howard had his number and Lopez just could not compare to his Eastern Conference rival. Lopez is definitely not anywhere near Howard’s class. Lopez was averaging 23 points per game entering tonight’s game.

And Howard continues to separate himself into a class of his own with another astounding game tonight.

He literally was carrying the offense once again in the first half. And so slowly we are learning Howard can be the leading offensive option on this team. At least it shows what Howard can do when he makes his free throws (12 of 16 on the night).

The big boost offensively came from Mickael Pietrus. Pietrus, who got into a bit of an argument with Stan Van Gundy over playing time during Wednesday’s game, scored nine points off the bench and provided a nice lift for the team.

Once Orlando woke up in this one, it was game over for New Jersey. While the Nets are improved, they do not have the overall talent or depth to to defeat a team like the Magic.

New Jersey looked on its way to an upset with a more determined, gritty effort in the first half to go along with very timely shotmaking. But when Orlando put the clamps down in the third quarter, New Jersey could not match the intensity or keep up. The Magic are going to be able to do that to a lot of teams in this league.The Nets are certainly one of those teams.

Orlando’s defensive rating in this one was a pedestrian 102.0.

The Magic had to work very hard to earn the win tonight. The first win they have probably had to really work for the entire game for all year.

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