Magic Ride Howard To 110-92 Win

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The Magic got off to a slow start because of Dwight Howard’s early foul trouble, but they used a dominating second quarter to build a big lead and played very well down the stretch to hold on for a 110-92 victory over the Houston Rockets. The Magic improve to 39-19 while the Rockets fall back to .500 at 28-28. Dwight Howard led the Magic with 30 points and 16 rebounds while Aaron Brooks was the star for the Rockets, scoring 24 points and dishing out 8 assists.

NBA

After the first half of the opening quarter, the Magic were able to do whatever they wanted on offense with one exception; They couldn’t hit the three-pointer. They got some very good looks but managed to make just 29.0% of their attempts from beyond the arc (9-of-31). However, the Magic were excellent on two-pointers, shooting 34-of-56 (60.7%).

The Magic had one of their better games of the season as far as assist-to-turnover ratio. 27 of Orlando’s 43 field goals were assisted and they turned the ball over just 9 times. This was mainly because of the play of Orlando’s starting backcourt. Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter combined to dish out 16 assists and turned the ball over just twice. Nelson scored 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting and Carter put up 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

Early on, it seemed like Carter was knew that his teammates had it going so he chose to defer to them instead. Through three quarters, Carter had just 9 points, but dished out 6 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds. Carter did a good job of getting in to the paint, making smart decisions and finding open teammates. Carter also made a few excellent hustle plays, breaking up a long pass and at one point, collecting a loose ball after Matt Barnes had his shot blocked and finding Dwight Howard for an open dunk on a pretty bounce pass. Much like he did Sunday against Cleveland in the fourth quarter, Carter, with the Magic struggling, got it going. He scored 7 fourth quarter points including a late, game-clinching three-pointer that gave Orlando a 12-point lead with just over three minutes remaining.

Jameer Nelson had another fantastic game. He has done an excellent job of getting into the paint and getting himself good looks at the basket or finding open teammates. He did that often today, dishing out 9 assists. Nelson badly wanted the double-double but Mickael Pietrus missed a late-game three-pointer that could have given it to him. When Nelson is making good decisions and getting his teammates involved like this, the Magic are a very tough team to stop. It seems like the All-Star break really gave Nelson a chance to rest his injuries and it has rejuvenated him. Last Wednesday, when asked about Nelson’s improvements, Carter said “It’s a miracle what some rest can do for you.”

Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy is running out of superlatives to say about Dwight Howard. Howard was excellent again Wednesday night. Despite playing just 22 seconds in the first quarter because of foul trouble, Howard still scored 30 points and was a perfect 11-of-11 from the field. He also shot 8-of-12 from the charity stripe, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out 3 assists. It wasn’t all great for Howard – he got a little lax on defense once the Magic got the lead and the Rockets got way too many easy layups at the basket for a stretch, which is something that Stan Van Gundy took notice of and commented on.

Van Gundy also continued to praise Howard’s patience and the way he passes out of the double-team, which may be the biggest improvement he has made.

“He was incredible, incredible,” Van Gundy said.  “He made great plays out of double-teams. He’s just patient down there.”

Van Gundy also thought the Magic did a better job of getting the ball back to Howard after he passed it out on those double-teams.

“We did a good job of reposting him and getting the ball back in,” Van Gundy told reporters after the game.

When talking about the Center position, Marcin Gortat’s performance should not be overlooked. He played only 14 minutes but he did a very good job – he scored 7 points on 3-of-4 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds (3 offensive).

Despite all of the positives, Van Gundy found some negatives.

The Magic did not do a good job of defending the three-point line. The Rockets shot 12-of-24 from downtown. Defending the three has been a problem that has come up several times this season and Van Gundy has taken notice.

“We still don’t defend the three-point line,” Van Gundy said. “We need to protect the paint and close out. We just don’t go hard enough to do both.”

He is very upset about his team’s inability to hold big leads. They’ve blown several double-digit leads this season, even dropping a game at home against the Washington Wizards when they built a 21-point first quarter lead.

“We’re not good with lead and we need to learn to do a better job closing out games,” Van Gundy told the media after the game. “I’m just not happy with that – I’m not.”

It seemed like the Magic relaxed after they went up 27 and like most of us watching at home, proclaimed the game over.

Van Gundy described how the Rockets were able to get back in the game, “You get the lead and you think this possession isn’t important and then they get rolling.”

He was especially displeased with a 16-minute stretch in the third and fourth quarter, but was happy with two-thirds of Orlando’s game, saying, “I thought we played a really good first 28 minutes and we did a pretty good job closing it out in the last 4 minutes.”

You can read the quick game recap here.

Game Notes:

  • Dwight Howard record his 19th straight double-double, breaking the franchise record originally held by Shaquille O’Neal.
  • Rashard Lewis finished with 13 points after scoring just 2 in the first half. Lewis also had 4 rebounds and 4 steals playing in his hometown of Houston. Lewis said that he had 124 tickets for the game.
  • Orlando’s bench was great in the first half, scoring 22 first half points, but the starters played most of the second half and the bench finished with 27 points.
  • Orlando scored 52 points in the paint to Houston’s 34.
  • The Magic swept the Rockets for the first time in eight years.

Next Up: The Magic will be in New Orleans to face the Hornets at 9:00 pm EST on ESPN Friday night.

Final Thought: The Magic do need to protect the lead better but it never felt like they could lose this game. Overall, it was a good performance and another incredible game from Dwight Howard.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).