Orlando Magic 104, Utah Jazz 99

Propelled by Dwight Howard's lockdown defense and J.J. Redick's explosive scoring, the Orlando Magic gutted out another tough win at home, this time over the Utah Jazz by a 104-99 score. Howard's 5 blocked shots go "hand-in-hand" in limiting Utah to 28 points in the paint and 40.4% overall shooting, said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. Redick poured in 20 points off the bench, second on the team only to Howard, who scored 21, primarily at the foul line. This neck-and-neck game saw 19 lead changes and 18 ties, and Orlando only gained control for good after Rashard Lewis and Redick sank consecutive three-pointers with less than 5 minutes to play.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Jazz 105 93.9 44.4% 22.5 18.2 16.1
Magic 91 114.0 55.3% 47.0 14.3 17.5
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

As exciting as the game was in the end, it got off to an uneven start as both teams looked sluggish in the first half. Sure, it had its moments, like Redick's deep, off-balance three-pointer to beat the shot-clock buzzer halfway through the second period, but by and large both teams just felt each other out in a dull way. Orlando out-shot the Jazz handily, but Utah's 8 extra possessions helped it muster a 40-all tie at the half.

No, the fireworks didn't begin until the third period, which saw referee Sean Corbin eject Magic point guard Jason Williams on two quick techincal fouls during what appeared to be a reasoned enough conversation, as Williams pled his case after Corbin whistled him for fouling Utah's Deron Williams. Deron Williams' shot counted, and he drained both technical foul shots as well as the and-one, giving the Jazz a rare five-point possession. The quick ejection fired up the Amway Arena crowd, which stirred in the first half when the 6'04" Redick was called for a loose-ball foul trying to box out the Jazz's 6'11" Mehmet Okur, who leaned on Redick and nearly forced him to the ground. Mickael Pietrus, who hardly registered in the first half, drilled a three-pointer and got an easy dunk off a great feed from the double-teamed Howard. Both plays gave the Magic a one-point lead. The Magic also forced Utah to commit 7 turnovers in that quarter, after forcing just 6 in the entire first half. Van Gundy didn't think his team did anything differently, though, and said, "we're not really forcing turnovers, quite honestly. Teams are turning the ball over because we're more compact and trying to hold down field goal percentage and rebound the ball." He also said he thought the Magic are last in the league in forcing turnovers (they are, naturally; no detail escapes Van Gundy) because "it's not an emphasis of ours."

Redick didn't play in the third period, but started the fourth, joining Anthony Johnson--who did not appear in the first three quarters--in the backcourt. Redick's 11 points in the 4th were key, and it got to the point that Van Gundy left him in the game and subbed starting shooting guard Vince Carter at small forward because, said Van Gundy, "there was no way I was taking J.J. out." It was a risky move on his part because it left Carter guarding Andrei Kirilenko, to whom Carter yields 3 inches. Kirilenko made three three-pointers in the fourth quarter, two of them with Carter in the game. But Van Gundy's gambit ultimately paid off. Redick scored enough to compensate for whatever Carter gave up to Kirilenko on the other end. Plus, Carter drew the defense and assisted on the aforementioned Lewis three-pointer that broke the 86-all tie. He drove from the right side and found Lewis wide-open in the left corner. Ronnie Brewer, who was guarding Redick on the left wing at the time, tried to close hard on Lewis, but he couldn't get there quickly enough. There was a time early in his Magic career when Lewis would have seen Brewer charging at him and made the extra pass to Redick for the shot, but firing away himself was the proper move in this instance. There's no need to exchange one wide-open look for another. Lewis, by the way, scored 18 points. Let's see how many times this year he plays a key role and I manage to bury his contributions in the nether portions of the recap, shall we?

Orlando's offensive display in the fourth quarter, in which it scored 34 points, demonstrated how dangerous it can be when its shots drop and when it plays great defense. Sure, Utah scored 31 points of its own. However, 3 of those came on a meaningless, uncontested trey by C.J. Miles at the final horn, and the Magic can live with Kirilenko, who sports a career 30.9% three-point mark, teeing off from deep. What Van Gundy was most pleased with was, again, his players' ability to control the paint. Deron Williams was hardly able to get into the lane, which shut down Utah's drive-and-kick game and instead forced the Jazz into taking mid-range jumpers. Generally, it's the least efficient shot in basketball, but power forwards Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap have it in their arsenal, which makes it a good--but not great--option for the Jazz every so often. Incidentally, Millsap led all scorers with 23 points in just 26 minutes, shooting 9-of-12 from the field. Public address announcer Paul Porter became audibly more disgusted with each successive Millsap bucket.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, though, must have been beside himself with each Redick basket. Redick said after the game "I'm not a guy who can afford to fall behind" in terms of game conditioning, so he must compensate by working hard and playing smart. He did so tonight. What's impressed me is his ability to create for himself off the dribble. One of the knocks on him coming out of college, and a criticism that persisted through last season, is that he's neither tall enough nor athletic enough to get shots off against NBA-caliber athletes and defenders. He's slowly but surely been able to convince me otherwise. Twice tonight he ran a pick-and-roll with Howard and got open shots for himself as a result, just by using some well-timed hesitation dribbles to fool his defender into thinking he was ready to pass to Howard on the roll. He displayed his awareness again at the 3:17 mark of the fourth quarter, when he cut hard from the right wing to the basket once his man left him to double Howard, who had the ball in the left mid-post. Howard found Redick, who laid it in softly for a 5-point Magic lead. He's shown tremendous confidence in the last several games, and throughout the whole season, really. He attributed the confidence boost to some good all-around performances in last year's playoffs, which carried over into his offseason workouts and preparation. Van Gundy said Redick "is playing with great confidence, and with good reason," later adding that "we have great confidence in him." I don't think anyone saw Redick's emergence coming, save for perhaps Redick himself.

When Van Gundy said, "If we continue to play with this kind of focus and intensity, then we're going to be in pretty good shape," was probably right. Carter shot just 5-of-15 for 18 points (though Van Gundy praised his decision-making in crunch time), Jameer Nelson missed all 6 of his shots in his first 14 minutes of playing time in 5 weeks, and neither backup power forwards Ryan Anderson or Brandon Bass tallied a field goal. However, Orlando came through with a great showing on both sides of the ball. The Magic just might be turning the corner here on this homestand.

My thoughts on Nelson? He played a decent game, and looked excellent running two fast-breaks with Bass late in the third quarter. Johnson got the call at point guard over Nelson in the fourth quarter because, according to Van Gundy, Nelson's "decisions on when to shoot and when to pass were not real good, and that's to be expected." He said Nelson played "pretty well" overall and displayed "good quickness."

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