Orlando Magic 110, Los Angeles Clippers 88

Rashard Lewis of the Orlando Magic shoots a field goal against the Los Angeles Clippers in an NBA basketball game
Rashard Lewis elevates to shoot against Corey Maggete. Lewis' Magic beat Maggete's Clippers by a final score of 110-88.
Photo by John Raoux, the Associated Press

Tonight, the Magic got off to a slow start against an inferior opponent, spotting the Clippers a 7-1 lead to start the game. It appeared as though the Magic were on their way to losing yet another "trap game," something their fans have become accustomed to watching over the past several season. But thanks to some strong defense and aggressive offense, the Magic battled back to take a 13-12 lead midway through the first period, a lead they would not relinquish en route to a 110-88 drubbing of the undermanned, overmatched Clippers. Here's the boxscore.

I give Rashard Lewis a lot of credit for getting the Magic out of their early funk. The usually passive Lewis drove hard to the basket for the Magic's first field goal, a layup on which he was fouled; he converted the free throw, and the Magic got the message. They didn't settle for too many open jumpers, instead driving into the teeth of Los Angeles' poor interior defense. With Chris Kaman and Elton Brand unavailable, the Clippers had no choice but to depend on Josh Powell, Nick Fazekas, and Tim Thomas to defend the post. They did poorly, to say the least. Dwight Howard had his way with the smaller, weaker defenders hanging onto him; as Magic color-commentator Matt Guokas observed, Howard was "literally head-and-shoulders" above everyone else down low, and it appeared as though he was playing in a high-school game. Our franchise center scored 22 points, grabbed 15 boards, and swatted three shots, numbers good enough to compensate for his 7 turnovers.

Once again, the Magic played stellar defense. Granted, the Clippers are not an offensive juggernaut, but only Corey Maggette distinguished himself; he scored 22 points in the contest, but just 2 after halftime. Rookie sensation Al Thornton scored 17 points, but missed 16 of his 24 shots. Despite being quicker and more athletic than his defender, Rashard Lewis, Thornton too often settled for jump-shots, which the Magic were happy to grant him.

Indeed, only two negatives came from this game: first, the Magic once again struggled to force many turnovers. The Clippers turned the ball over 7 times in 92 possessions, which is 7.6 percent. On average, they turn the ball over on 15.9 percent of their possessions. Granted, the Magic's defense held them to offensive efficiency (95.7) and effective field goal percentage (.428) below their respective averages (102.8 and .464), but the Magic absolutely need to make a stronger commitment to getting into the passing lanes if they hope to succeed in the playoffs. The better teams in the East will certainly score more efficiently and shoot straighter than the Clippers did tonight, and the Magic will need to balance that by forcing turnovers, something they've struggled to do all season.

The other negative is Dwight Howard's injury. Howard collided with Corey Maggette with 6:37 to play in the game and the Magic leading by 19. He was called for an offensive foul and struggled to get up. He has a bruised right quadriceps, but the injury does not appear to be serious. This hopefully minor injury certainly calls Stan Van Gundy's substitution patterns into question. With a 19-point lead against a team as offensively challenged as Los Angeles, there's no reason for the starters to be in the game.

Overall, though, the Magic played very well, and continue to surge toward the playoffs. Tonight's game marked the fourth time in six games this month the Magic held their opponent to a sub-100 offensive rating. They also got great point guard play: Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo combined for 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 9 assists, and 0 turnovers. Yes, we should take those numbers with a grain of salt, given the Clippers' less-than-formidable point guard platoon of Brevin Knight and Dan Dickau, but it's still encouraging to see the much-maligned Magic signal-callers get back on-track.

Check out Steve's recap at Clips Nation for the view from the other side. He assesses Howard thusly: "He's got some of the worst footwork this side of Michael Olowokandi [....] The guy is one of the most dominant players in the league already - if ever develops a game he's going to be unstoppable."

Final notes:

  • The Magic's 11 three-pointers brought their season total to 622, which ties a franchise record. (HT: Denton)
  • Pat Garrity played 2 minutes of garbage-time this evening, his 500th career game in the NBA. He scored 2 points by making his only shot.
  • J.J. Redick played alongside Garrity for the game's final two minutes, recording a turnover as his only stat. He drove into the lane, left the floor, and dished to Brian Cook on the right baseline. Cook zigged when Redick thought he would zag, and the ball sailed out of bounds.
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