Magic get defensive against Blazers

JJ Redick came off a screen and received a sharp bounce pass from Matt Barnes. He calmly drained the 3-pointer as he had done millions of times at Duke and had earned him a spot in the NBA and the promise to keep him hanging around the league. The three tied the game entering the fourth quarter and seemingly awoke a stagnant offense.

Orlando went on an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter and overcame the team’s poor shooting and Vince Carter’s poor night to upend Portland 92-83 on Saturday night at Amway Arena. In the process, the Magic held the Trail Blazers to a franchise opponent low seven assists.

This game was not for the faint of heart as both teams struggled mightily offensively and relied on their defenses to provide the spark. Probably exactly the test that Stan Van Gundy would want after a stretch of games where the defensive effort was not always there — especially at the beginning of games. But tonight, Orlando had the defensive effort early and kept it up throughout the game even with the shots not falling.

Before the Magic could even blink (it seemed), they were down 7-0 and looked stagnant offensively. But they quickly came back and made it a see-saw battle with the Blazers as both teams could not get much going.

Portland’s offense consisted mostly of Brandon Roy, who scored a game-high 33 points. But the Blazers got nothing much else consistent offensively. The Magic held the Blazers to a franchise opponent low of seven assists throughout the game. That statistic alone highlights the offensive struggles Portland was having. The team ended up shooting 37.2 percent for the game and, after holding Orlando to 39 points in the first half, scored only 39 points in the second half.

The Magic, as you might infer from above, struggled themselves offensively. They shot 42.1 percent for the game and Vince Carter led the horrible offense with nine points on 1-for-14 shooting. He was getting decent looks and simply missing them. Even his drives to the basket were coming up short or blocked or defended well. It was clear to see his frustration at the end of the game as he tried desperately to make another shot.

But this was the kind of game where Orlando needed him to do other things. And Carter did that. Vince finished with seven rebounds and three assists and did a decent enough job defensively to try and make up for some of his offensive failings tonight.

Dwight Howard did his job defensively anchoring the defense and keeping the Blazers away from the paint. His 12-point, 20-rebound performance is not the prettiest thing in the world. But it was the workmanlike game the Magic needed tonight to ensure a victory. His work on the glass helped propel Orlando to 54-35 edge on the glass.

As always this season, Orlando’s saving grace was its bench.

Redick stepped up again when the team needed him, scoring 12 points. He was looking for his shot and playing aggressively. On a night when no one could make anything, Redick was the spark for the Magic especially in the second half. Anthony Johnson (nine points) did a nice job filling in at the point. And Matt Barnes scored eight quick points in just 13 minutes in the second half.

The bench helped the Magic start its rally in the fourth quarter and keep them in the game in the second. There is no doubt Orlando would have a lot more losses without the efforts from these guys and the bench throughout this season. This was another game when the bench bailed out a slow start.

This was one of those ugly, gritty games that good teams have to win. The offense was not working and, for maybe the first time all year, Orlando had to rely on its defense to win the game. The defense still works and it helped lock down a pretty solid — and likely playoff-bound — Portland team. Even with 19 turnovers and Carter struggling, this is a game the Magic can be proud of winning.