Magic Play Hard in Howard’s Absence Against Bulls

Jameer Nelson’s game-tying three-pointer does not count as Magic lose 102-99 versus Chicago on Sunday. AP Photo/John Raoux

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Magic entered Sunday’s duel against the Chicago Bulls facing a challenge without center Dwight Howard in the lineup.

Even with Howard’s one game suspension, the Magic (50-30) found a way to come together without their centerpiece, losing only after Jameer Nelson’s three-point attempt to tie the game did not count. The clock expired before the ball left his hands.

The Bulls (60-20) won 102-99 and were lights outs shooting. As a team, Chicago made 60 percent of their field goals. Derrick Rose caused Orlando trouble with his 39 points. He shot 13-of-17 from the floor with three three-pointers and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line. The Bulls tied a season-high for field goal percentage against Orlando. The Boston Celtics also shot 60 percent on Jan. 22.

Although the Bulls had a great afternoon shooting, the Magic were able to stay in the game by creating turnovers and collecting 33 rebounds.

“It is hard to believe you’re even in the game,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Their 21 turnovers were the only thing that kept us in the game. We got a lot more shots than they did because we offensive rebounded.”

In the last meeting, an 89-81 Bulls victory, Chicago outhustled the Magic 50-30 on the boards.

“I think our guys were much more conscious of being on the boards,” Van Gundy said.

Van Gundy said a reason for this was that the Bulls didn’t miss many of their shots on offense, so they didn’t have many chances to get the offensive rebound. While they had 37 total rebounds, only five came on offense.

In Howard’s absence, Ryan Anderson set a career-high for points in a game with 28. He previously had 23 points against Cleveland on Jan. 30. Anderson added 10 rebounds and shot 9-of-18 from the floor with four 3-pointers.

Anderson said that without Howard, the team needed to create more opportunities. Without Howard, the Magic were missing 23.1 points and 14.1 rebounds per game.

“We had a lot of ball movement,” said Anderson. “We were playing as a unit tonight. When he’s out you have to work extra hard and tonight I think we did a great job fighting the whole game.”

Jason Richardson contributed 24 points, making 10 of his 14 attempts and Nelson added 17. The 3-point shot came through for Orlando as they converted 50 percent of their attempts (12-of-24). The starters combined to make 28-of-68 of their shots.

Limited from the bench, they combined to take 13 shots, including seven points from Chris Duhon.

What the Magic can take away from this loss is a great performance with everyone playing hard and creating opportunities in Howard’s absence, in particular, against a team that clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The result had no bearing as the Magic are already locked in at fourth in the East.

Nelson, who’s three-pointer initially blew the roof off the Amway Center, said they wanted to play well with Howard.

“…There will be stretches in the playoffs and in any games, (where) he may not be on the court. He’s going to have to get a break sometimes, and guys have to step up. Guys did tonight.”

The Magic dropped to 1-3 without Howard in the lineup this season. Tomorrow they are on the road against Philadelphia before returning home Wednesday night against Indiana to conclude the regular season.