Dwight Howard seemed to erase any distraction or talk of his uncertain future with one wave of his imposing arm. This game was not going to be dominated by talk or by speculation. Thursday’s matchup between the Magic and the Nets was going to be about just that — the Magic and the Nets.
Dwight Howard sent a Mehmet Okur hook shot three rows deep into the stands on the third possession of the game, setting the tone for what would be a defensive stand from Orlando. The Magic would make wondering why Kris Humphries was so vociferously booed by the Amway Center crowd and how Deron Williams could go 2 for 12 from the floor the biggest reasons for any speculation on this night.
Truly, Dwight Howard did not need to score a point, as Jason Richardson said, to affect this game.
“I should have caught it, but it looked good,” Howard said, his eyes becoming a little wide as he reminisced over his impressive swat. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ I wanted it to keep going. You could see the Spalding and it was just spinning and spinning and somebody caught it. But it was cool.”
Howard finished the evening with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting (2 for 9 from the line) and added 24 rebounds, two shy of his career high. He added three steals and three blocks, including that intimidating one early in the game. More importantly, the Nets had just 26 points in the paint, shooting 13 for 29 in the lane. That is the power of Dwight Howard.
It might have been over before it started, even though the Magic could not completely bury the Nets and run away with the game. Orlando scored its second win with a 94-78 victory at Amway Center on Thursday night.
“I like the way we’re playing now,” Howard said. “Guys are really shooting the ball well. We just have to keep playing this way and really attack the basket. When we have a team down, we’ve got to start keeping them down. We’ve got to bury them and put them away, not give them any life. Once we figure out how to do that on a consistent basis, we’re going to be tough.”
Ryan Anderson added 22 points, Jason Richardson scored 16 points and Hedo Turkoglu added 11 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Jameer Nelson played only 17 minutes tonight after suffering a neck spasm early in the third quarter. Nelson said after the game that he was feeling better, but wanted to be cautious with it. He will see how it feels Friday morning before ruling out playing in Friday’s game at Charlotte.
Orlando proved that it can be tough when it is hitting its shots like it did early and then just as tough if the team is playing strong defense.
The Magic played a fantastic first quarter and ran out to as much as a 20-point lead in the first half. Orlando shot 11 for 20 from the floor recording eight assists on those 11 field goals. Ball movement was a real key in the first half as the Magic totaled 14 assists on 19 field goals in the first half.
Orlando’s lead was slowly erased during a stagnant second quarter though. When the ball movement stops, and especially when Dwight Howard is out of the game, the Magic can really struggle.
“I thought we played the first 19 minutes of the game very very well on both ends of the floor,” Stan Van Gundy said. “I thought the last five minutes of the [first] half, we didn’t have Dwight out there, we didn’t defend and we quit moving the ball. Guys wanted to get their shot a little bit, and I thought we got a little bit selfish.
“In the second half, I thought we came back with a good frame of mind. We didn’t go on a big run, but I thought we were pretty consistent throughout the entire second half. If we could have made free throws, I think we really could have opened it up.”
Orlando never trailed in the second half as the defensive intensity picked up and held the Nets to 34 total points in the second half. In fact, New Jersey had only one quarter — the second quarter when they went on a 22-8 run during the final 6:35 to bring the 20-point lead down to six at the half — where the team scored better than 20 points.
New Jersey had its struggles and its very brief moments of consistency in this one, but could not stand up to the Magic in the end.
Orlando pushed the lead out to 15 late in the third quarter, never letting it sink below six after an early push from New Jersey to get it to six. The lead was no smaller than seven in the fourth quarter as Orlando finally put New Jersey away with an 13-4 run capped by a Hedo Turkoglu 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter that made it an 18-point lead late in the game.
The Nets shot only 41.2 percent in the second half and scored 34 total points. They committed nine turnovers with four coming from Deron Williams.
The numbers looked good but Stan Van Gundy said he is hoping to see the team clean up some mistakes on their pick and roll defense and play better when Dwight Howard is out of the game. But you cannot argue with the final result. The Magic got the job done.
“We have to continue to work on all these things that are going to make a difference this season,” Howard said. “I like the way we’re heading right now. We’re doing all the right things on defense. We’re making mistakes here and there, but we’ll get right. Our effort has been great and we’ve just got to continue to get better.”