The Orlando Magic rebounded from a sluggish start against the Milwaukee Bucks to defeat them, 110-94, for their fifth straight win and 54th overall. Orlando increased its lead in every quarter, but really blew the game open during an 8-2 run to start the fourth period. Hedo Turkoglu was the only Magic starter on the floor for that spurt, which was led by reserve center Marcin Gortat. His fast-break slam off lob from J.J. Redick got the crowd on its feet and gave Orlando a 14-point edge.
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Contrary to what we expected, Dwight Howard did not dominate the game. He got into early foul trouble and appeared to be frustrated by some non-calls that benefitted the Bucks. For context, let's revisit an entry Dwight Howard posted on his blog last Tuesday:
I really felt like I let the refs take me out of my game Saturday night [against the Knicks]. I stopped being aggressive because it seemed like anything I did, I got called for a foul. I can't let the refs take me out of the way that I know how to play. When I'm aggressive, attacking and hitting first, that's when I'm at my best.
Fortunately, the Magic didn't need Dwight to dominate tonight in order to pull out the victory. Orlando used a more balanced attack: Rashard Lewis led the Magic with 19 points, while Howard and Hedo Turkoglu added 18 each, and Courtney Lee added 16. Rafer Alston and Gortat were Orlando's other double-figure scorers. Funny that an 18-point, 9-rebound, 2-block effort from Dwight is considered below-average, because most NBA teams would love to get that sort of nightly production from their centers.
The Bucks mostly played good defense--don't let Scott Skiles' presence on the bench fool you, as this is an average defensive team at best--but the Magic's ball movement had them scrambling. And the Magic's ability to push the tempo exposed the Bucks' lack of speed, with their transition defense lacking luster throughout the game. The Gortat alley-oop dunk I mentioned earlier all started with Anthony Johnson, who got the fast break started by tipping the rebound of Charlie Bell's missed jumper to Turkoglu, who got the ball to Redick, who then made the pass.
On the one hand, it's discouraging to see the Magic get off to such a poor start; on the other hand, it's encouraging to see such inspired, energetic play from their bench, especially as the playoffs grow nearer. Kyle Hightower of the Orlando Sentinel submits this game as evidence of Stan Van Gundy going into playoff-readiness mode. All 10 players in Orlando's regular rotation played at least 16 minutes, while Lewis and Turkoglu were the only Magic players to exceed 30 minutes. In his postgame comments, Van Gundy mentioned he made sure that Redick saw significant playing time, as he only played 2 minutes against Boston on Wednesday. He also added that he will try to make sure no one goes more than two or three games without logging major minutes. Sounds great to me.
While Gortat's 10 points and 11 rebounds represented Orlando's only double-double, and while Turkoglu posted 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists, it was Lewis who had Orlando's best game, and played the same way the Magic need him to in the playoffs. 19 points for Sweet Lew tonight on 8-of-15 shooting (3-of-6 from three-point range). He balanced his shot-selection well, not relying too heavily on the long ball. It's always a treat when he drives to the basket, leaving his defender in the dust with a quick pump fake, then befuddling the help defender with a ball fake to Howard or Gortat, then finishing with a soft touch at the rim. It's a move we don't see too often, for whatever reason, but it's one we doubtless want to see more of. Overall heady play tonight from Rashard, who added 8 rebounds and a season-high-tying 3 blocked shots. For that, we can forgive the poor early defense on Villanueva, who muscled right by him for an emphatic dunk early in the first period.
Overall, a tremendously entertaining game, and a great win to keep Orlando a half-game ahead of Boston for the Eastern Conference's second seed. But the best part of the game may have come during a timeout, when the team played a video to let us get to know Mickael Pietrus. He said if he could have any superpower, it would be to rob a bank. Also, he said the celebrity he most looks like is Halle Berry, before sheepishly adding, "the male version." Outstanding.