Orlando Magic 106, Minnesota Timberwolves 94

On cruise control against the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves for the first 36 minutes, the Orlando Magic came alive in the fourth quarter and pulled away for a 106-94 victory at the Target Center. Rashard Lewis led 6 Magic players in double-figure scoring, pouring in 21 points and 5 three-pointers. An opportunistic Matt Barnes added 17 with off-the-ball cuts, offensive rebounds, and fast-break runouts for easy buckets. The Timberwolves limited Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard to 9 points on 4-of-10 shooting by shrinking their defense and sending quick double-teams his way. No matter. Orlando responded by firing 37 three-pointers, just one shy of the franchise record, and making 15. Lewis and Ryan Anderson, the Magic's power forwards, hit 9 of them. In that sense, this was not your father's NBA game.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 89 118.6 54.4% 23.8 23.1 13.4
Wolves 91 103.0 47.7% 14.0 37.0 20.8
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Don't trick yourself into looking at the final score and thinking Orlando took care of business from the get-go. The Wolves made the most of their many offensive rebounds--they grabbed 14 in 27 first-half chances--to make the game interesting in the first half, only trailing by 4 at intermission. Meanwhile, the Magic struggled to get the ball to Howard inside and started launching from the perimeter, with mixed results. The volume shooting ultimately paid off: after Wayne Ellington drilled a three-pointer of his own to give Minnesota a 77-75 lead early in the fourth quarter, Anderson and backup point guard Jason Williams made three-pointers of their own on 4 straight Magic possessions, helping Orlando come out of that stretch with an 87-81 advantage.

The Wolves stuck with it, though. Rookie point guard Jonny Flynn, converting on just one-third of his triple-tries on the season, set a career high with 5 three-pointers this evening. And Ellington's off-balance layup in traffic with 5:34 remaining brought Minnesota to within 3 points. It looked like Orlando would have to eke out a road win over the Western Conference's worst team.

The Magic went on to score the game's next 10 points to seal victory, forcing Minnesota to miss 4 contested jump shots and to commit a turnover during that stretch. Jameer Nelson connected with Lewis on an alley-oop pass from midcourt to provide the dagger--probably the first dagger of Lewis' Magic career that didn't involve a three-point shot. Nelson had an excellent game, with 16 points, 6 assists, and sound decision-making.

I gathered that what most impressed Magic coach Stan Van Gundy about this win was his team's performance on the glass in the second half, allowing only 3 offensive rebounds to Minnesota while pulling down 16 defensive rebounds. Wolves power forward Kevin Love looked dominant in the first half, almost single-handedly keeping his cold-shooting teammates in the game with his offensive rebounding and foul-drawing. Ultimately, Wolves coach Kurt Rambis proved to be the only person capable of limiting Love this evening. Love lost track of Anderson beyond the arc a few too many times for Rambis' liking, and after Anderson sank his third three-pointer in less than two minutes, Rambis pulled Love in favor of combo forward Ryan Gomes, who was unproductive. When Love re-entered just over 3 minutes later, Orlando's lead had increased an additional 3 points. From that point to the final horn, the only statistic Love recorded was a missed field goal.

Even when Anderson's shots weren't falling, he proved useful, and might have been the team's MVP tonight; whether you agree with me depends upon your assessment of Barnes' all-around play (did I mention the 11 rebounds?) and Lewis' hot shooting. Anderson matched a career-high with 4 steals, all in the first half, and that number doesn't count the other passes he deflected out-of-bounds to disrupt Minnesota's offense. I give him credit for sticking to his game, even after missing his first several shots from the field. I also give credit to his teammates for finding him when he was open... which was frequently, as Minnesota tended to use whoever was playing power forward to double-team Howard inside.

Hard-earned, second-chance points, as well as uncharacteristically hot outside shooting from Flynn and Ellington, made Minnesota's offense look a bit better than it probably should have. Orlando did its job by forcing Corey Brewer and Damien Wilkins, the Wolves' starting wing players, to take long two-pointers and the occasional three-pointer. The pair combined to miss 17 of its 23 shots, and 13 of 17 from beyond 10 feet, according to HoopData. Howard didn't let his offensive struggles affect his defensive play too badly, as he took Al Jefferson--a potential All-Star in the making--out of his game. Jefferson scored 14 points on 13 shots and turned the ball over 4 times. I say "too badly" because he did shoot a nasty look at Anderson after Anderson fouled Love on a shot attempt Howard blocked.

Beginning with Wednesday's win over Milwaukee, Van Gundy put Barnes in the starting lineup in part because of his team's lack of energy to begin games. It's still difficult to tell if the switch has improved matters, as Orlando looked sluggish after racing to an 8-0 lead tonight and wound up trailing, 26-24, at the end of the first period. And against Milwaukee, the Magic shot 33.3% in the first quarter and faced a 4-point deficit. But over the course of both games, Orlando wore out its opponent and managed to pull out a win. Obviously, the rotation-juggling merits attention going forward, as does the play of the previously shaky Nelson.

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