Dwight Howard fouled Brook Lopez on the first play of the game. When the got the ball in the post next, he brushed aside Lopez and Deron Williams beneath the basket and rose up for a powerful dunk.
And with that, the blue paint was opened and the Magic had free reign throughout the evening.
Dwight Howard scored 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting and grabbed 17 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds. His strong play early opened things up and relaxed everyone. The ball was moving and the shots were falling.
New Jersey could not keep pace. The team’s shots were not falling and Deron Williams could not quite penetrate inside the basket. Orlando attacked on both ends strongly and took a 34-17 lead after one quarter.
That proved to be the difference. When the team needed to buckle down, it did. When it needed to quit joking around — and this game was a laugher for most of it — it got a good shot and, more importantly made it.
The Magic might as well have been toying with the Nets all night in a 108-91 win at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Wednesday.
Everything offensively worked for Orlando. The Magic shot 53.6 percent and had a season-high 32 assists on 45 field goals. The team was moving the ball quickly around the perimeter, attacking inside-out and driving. The Nets, the worst defensive team in the league by deffensive rating, were not stopping much. And even when they did, the Magic got 16 offensive rebounds.
The bench contributed a ton too.
Glen Davis made his first seven shots and scored 16 points. He was aggressive cutting to the basket and his teammates were finding him. He also continued his great shooting from the perimeter, looking more and more confident with his place on the team now. Chris Duhon also had his way with the New Jersey defense. Duhon scored 11 points and made three of his four 3-pointers.
All five starters scored in double figures. Jameer Nelson had 10 points to go with seven assists. And J.J. Redick had 12 points and six assists too.
Offensively there were no issues.
The only thing that anyone could argue went wrong was the defense. After a dominant 34-17 first quarter the Magic and Nets broke even the rest of the way. It was not quite the dominant team that rolled through the first quarter.
The Magic went up big in the second quarter thanks to the team’s second unit. From there it was just a wait for the game to end.
Deron Williams keyed a run that brought the Nets within 10 points early in the third quarter. The defensive malaise that began permeating in the second quarter — a laziness that often happens when a team goes up big. That persisted and the defensive effort continued to lag.
Williams got himself going with three 3-poitners in the third quarter. But just as quickly as the Nets had the lead down to 10 points, the Magic went on an 8-0 run. Hedo Turkoglu made one of his 3-pointers to break the spell and Orlando got things going again.
From there, the offense simply hummed along at a smooth, efficient clip. The Nets could not hit enough shots to keep the pace. They certainly did not have the attention to play defense long enough to slow down the Magic.
New Jersey was flat-footed and ready to get blown by. All it would take was Orlando to put in the effort to attack.
As Stan Van Gundy noted after the game, the Magic were content to play offense the entire game. That was enough. Surviving the Nets’ offensive flurries, the Magic had control and never lost it. New Jersey put its heads down and could not recover after that last fit to try and get at the lead.
Deron Williams committed seven turnovers, a lot of them just trying to create something for his team. It did not work.
New Jersey was not good enough.
And that of course leaves the elephant in the room. This was Dwight Howard’s only scheduled appearance ini New Jersey against the Nets. New Jersey fans certainly tried to show their love, but there was not much to cheer for when it came to the home team. The “We want Dwight” chants were few and far between and came when the lead was already too large.
Likely, this game will have no bearing on Dwight’s decision. But Magic fans had their moments of uneasiness. Most of that was before the game.
None of it was during the game. Orlando had the game well in hand. And quite clearly the better team.