Too hot to handle, too big for Suns


From the opening tip it was clear the Suns were going to be a step behind.

The ball whipped around the perimeter quickly and always seemed to find Ryan Anderson open beyond the arc. When it got inside, Marcin Gortat, left on an island against Howard as he often was in practice when he was with the Magic, was defenseless against the Dwight Howard brute force.

Orlando was playing around with Phoenix for most of the game, so much so that the team pretty much took the fourth quarter off. At least offensively.

Howard was just too big for the Suns to deal with on offense. Phoenix’s offense bogged down as Orlando clogged the lanes and kept Steve Nash from wreaking havoc.

The Magic were comfortable in this one, building a 22-point fourth quarter lead with crisp ball movement and ball reversals. Orlando had it clicking on just about all cylinders, showing how lethal the team can be on both ends of the floor. A late-game run and the turnover problem were all that could rain on the Magic’s parade in a 103-93 victory over the Suns on Wednesday at Amway Center.

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Orlando had it working early with Ryan Anderson making three of his seven 3-pointers in the first quarter. He was off to a good start offensively. Phoenix could not get the same kind of ball movement going on their end and Orlando’s active defense kept Marcin Gortat from doing much on the pick and roll.

Yes, the Magic lost the last two games before this one, but it feels like the defense is starting to find its footing. The rotations tonight were as quick as they had been. Orlando was trying to keep Nash from turning the corner and had to use Howard to do that, that mean the power forward or someone else had to get to Marcin Gortat as the roll man.

When you look at Gortat’s stat line — four points, 1-for-7 shooting — it is pretty clear that the Magic did this job successfully and had the paint locked down. What made the defense really work was the rotation back after Nash’s dribble penetration was stopped. Orlando was just as fast getting out to 3-point shooters. Phoenix hit on just 4 of 12 3-pointers.

Even when the Suns tried to run, the Magic were there. They were committed, as was mentioned on the broadcast, to getting back on defense to try and slow down the fast break and prevent the mismatches that the transition game usually gives the Suns. When Phoenix did attack, Dwight Howard was there to meet the offensive player and challenge the shot.

The Suns had a tough time getting offense going. Orlando did not.

The team hit 11 of 23 3-pointers and made 47 percent of its shots. The Magic had the ball moving and were even a little too unselfish at times. Considering how the Magic have been shooting in recent games, the complaint was that guys were looking to shoot too quickly. That was definitely not the case tonight. Orlando had 23 assists on 39 field goals. That is a pretty good conversion rate.

What really set the tone offensively was Dwight Howard. After Anderson and the 3-point shooting had loosened everything, Howard went to work, putting on a clinic against Gortat. Howard had 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting and collected 16 rebounds. He displayed a nice array of post moves too, just taking his former understudy to class.

The bench even came in and did a fantastic job, extending Orlando’s lead out to 22 points in the fourth quarter. They did the same in the second quarter too as the Magic were never threatened — the lead did not creep under 10 points until late in the fourth quarter.

Glen Davis had 16 points and seven rebounds off the bench and J.J. Redick added 10 points. If there is a sign that the team was playing well with its bench players on the floor, it should be shown in Chris Duhon‘s team-high +19. Not that it means anything about how Duhon actually played.

The Magic had it clicking. Really everything worked until the fourth quarter when the second unit started getting tired and started losing interest in the game. That is when Phoenix finally became the aggressor and brought the lead down to 11 points. Stan Van Gundy begrudgingly put his starters back in and Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard finished the game off.

That effort in the fourth quarter and the 17 turnovers will probably eat at Stan Van Gundy on otherwise strong night for the Magic. A lot of the turnovers remained of the puzzling variety. Unforced and kind of silly.

Unlike the last two games though, Orlando’s defense was very much on its game throughout. The team forced 17 turnovers itself and got the offense rolling by crowding passing lanes and being generally very active in trying to attack loose balls and passes. Again, the defense seemed to be rounding into form.

Of course, Phoenix is not Chicago or Miami. The next test will be putting this kind of effort — or even better — when those games come around. It was a great effort, but the team certainly had a bitter taste after packing it in after three quarters.