A season of frustration may have been vented and finally put to bed on one play. Maybe it is reading too much into one play during a blowout of a late-April game with very little meaning. In fact it probably is.
But when Jameer Nelson poked the ball away from Jodie Meeks and led a fast break that ended with Jrue Holiday on the wrong side of a Dwight Howard poster, the Magic might have finally been able to exhale and say, “We’re ready.”
Ready might be a relative term. But, for the second straight game, the Magic played with urgency and effort and finally resembled a team that had been to the Eastern Conference Finals the last two seasons.
A 30-10 run in the third quarter erased a turnover-plagued first half as Orlando methodically pulled away and took care of business with a 95-85 win over Philadelphia at Wells Fargo Center on Monday.
That is not a description we have been able to use very often this season and it is perhaps a sign the Magic are mentally prepared (not just preparing) for a postseason run.
Orlando came out in the third quarter and simply put on a defensive clinic, playing with energy and focus. After giving up the lead early in the third quarter and losing a 14-point lead in the first half with a horrid shooting performance in the second quarter — just more than 20 percent shooting in the quarter — to allow the 76ers back into the game.
But the Magic just killed the 76ers with their defense and efficiency. They did a great job in the third quarter getting out to the shooters and putting pressure on Philadelphia’s guards. The Sixers had no chance really to contest as the Magic got out on the run and simply overwhelmed them.
It started with Howard’s massive throwdown and the energy permeated throughout the quarter.
Energy was the key word in this game. Orlando had it throughout and Philadelphia had it lacking for long enough for Orlando to earn the victory.
Ryan Anderson for the second straight game was the catalyst. He wroked extremely hard on the glass to pick up seven of his 14 rebounds on the offensive glass. Orlando had a 45.2 offensive rebound rate and at halftime held a 32-9 advantage on the glass.
Those rebounding numbers just do not happen.
Orlando got to that kind of dominance by simply being quicker to the ball and never giving up on plays. Again, the kinds of things the team perhaps was not doing during the doldrums of the season a few weeks ago.
Anderson added 18 points too and posted a team-best +22 in 22:13 of play. That would mean Orlando gained nearly a point per minute Anderson was in the game. He was very effective once again for the Magic.
And really the only reason the 76ers were able to stay in this game was because of a large amount of turnovers in the first half. Orlando had six by the end of the first quarter. Some great shooting — Orlando scored 34 points and shot better than 60 percent in the first quarter — hid the effect of those turnovers, but eventually Philadelphia was able to get back into it when Orlando went cold.
Orlando had 16 turnovers in the game, five from Jameer Nelson, and that certainly hurt as Orlando had to come in and fight in the third quarter. But fight the Magic did. And, despite shooting 43.8 percent from the floor for the game, Orlando won this thing running away.
Stan Van Gundy did not seem too willing to put a whole lot of stock in determining if this win meant his team was “Playoff ready.” For sure you have to take this game with a grain of salt considering Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams both sat out this one. There was plenty of positives to take from this one.
The big one: for the second straight game Orlando played extremely hard. And for the first time in a while, they looked like a team ready to dominate.