Dwight Howard Wears Down Nash-less Suns

Robin Lopez and the Suns never stood a chance. Pre-game Steve Nash was ruled out with constant pain in his pelvis, the green light was given to Aaron Brooks to run Phoenix, but Lopez still had to deal with Dwight Howard. It seemed like either the game plan was flawed or his ability to defend was flawed. On the first two possession Lopez played a little too physically but got away with it.

Howard didn’t get frustrated. He got angry. And took it out on Lopez. And then later on his former protoge, Marcin Gortat.

Dwight scored 26 points, grabbed 15 rebounds (5 offensive) and blocked five shots. He spun and wheeled his way around Lopez scoring almost at will. For the first time in a long while it seems, a team was forced to double Howard and that opened everything else up. Orlando took control with a dominant third quarter as Phoenix desperately tried to defend and Orlando bounced back from Friday’s loss with a 111-88 win at U.S. Airways Center on Sunday.

The Magic had the offense rolling all game long as the Suns were (predictably) unable to defend. Orlando had an offensive rating of 115.6 points, shot a 50.0 percent effective field goal percentage and made 8 of its 24 3-point attempts. This game was very similar to the offensive onslaught the Magic put on Friday. The only difference was there were no turnovers or silly mistakes to keep Phoenix in the game — at least not after the first half when the defensive intensity really picked up.

Orlando was well below its average in turning the ball over 12 times for a 12.5 percent turnover rate. Considering the way the Magic have thrown the ball around lately, those numbers feel much better. It helped Orlando keep control throughout the game even when the defense was struggling.

Really the Magic had a healthy 6-12 point lead for a good section of the first half and did not really take control until the third quarter. There Orlando outscored Phoenix 26-13. The Magic did not really change much on defense, really they just stepped up their intensity.

Stan Van Gundy was not very happy with the team’s defensive focus and intensity in the first half. Aaron Brooks scored all 19 of his points in the first half and looked like, well, Steve Nash with his ability to pull up on the pick and roll. Really Orlando was not applying much pressure on Brooks and allowing him to come around the screen completely free.

Orlando tightened the screws on the pick and roll defense and it enabled the team to pull away and completely dominate.

All five starters scored in double figures. Brandon Bass added 17 points and Jameer Nelson had 14 point on 5-for-9 shooting. Nelson got banged up in the first half, but showed no problems in the second half, helping lock down Brooks. Gilbert Arenas came off the bench and scored 16 off the bench on 10 field goal attempts — shooting a 60.0 percent effective field goal percentage. Arenas at times looked like his old self, just to get your hopes up a little bit.

The defense was the key in this game. Phoenix’s offense may not completely operate the same way with Nash out of the lineup. But Orlando did a number too. The Suns shot 38.8 percent from the floor and just 4 of 15 from long range. Their 91.8 offensive rating is the lowest conceded by the Magic since the win over the Wizards just before the All-Star Break. Considering how uninspired they played defense in the first half, that number looks more amazing. After scoring 52 points in the first half, the Suns managed only 36 in the second.

That is the recipe for a big win.

Of course, the theme of the season is can Orlando do it again Monday night against the Lakers. 

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

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