Orlando Magic 104, New Jersey Nets 88

The Orlando Magic extended their winning streak to 3 games Monday night with their 104-88 victory over the New Jersey Nets. Dwight Howard dominated New Jersey with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots, Hedo Turkoglu poured in 20 points, 7 boards, and 5 assists, but they got plenty of help from their teammates. Four other Magic players reached double-figure scoring, while everyone chipped in defensively for the final three periods, limiting the Nets to 63 points in that span. Nets cornerstones Devin Harris and Brook Lopez scored 24 and 20 points, respectively, to lead New Jersey's charge, but the Magic contained their meager supporting cast, which combined to shoot 17-of-48 from the floor.

In draining three-pointers at an impressive rate--12-of-28 for 42.9 percent, to be precise--and holding its opposition to well below its season average in numerous offensive categories, Orlando resembled its NBA Finalist team from two seasons ago. Granted, the meager talent of the opposition obviously plays a role in making Orlando look so good, but the bigger takeaway is that this team looks like one that's been together since training camp or longer, rather than simply one week. The initiative to push the ball in order to maximize early-offensive opportunities is working, the players acquired last Saturday appear to be more at ease in their roles, and the entire team has renewed its commitment at the defensive end. "There's a new kind of energy around here," Jameer Nelson said following the victory, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. You could get that impression from watching the game tonight.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 88 118.6 56.3% 17.5 27.5 16.0
Nets 89 98.7 42.3% 28.2 22.2 16.8
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

But Orlando didn't run away with this game from the get-go. The Magic trailed, 25-24, after the first period as they continued sending New Jersey to the foul line. And at the 7:35 mark of the third quarter, Travis Outlaw banged in a three-pointer to give the Nets a 57-55 lead.

Sadly for New Jersey, the Magic went on an 8-0 tear over the next minute, and then did just enough in the waning moments of the third to essentially seal the victory. Howard played a huge role in that, as he scored 11 of his points in the quarter, with 7 coming at the free-throw line. Foul trouble limited the Magic's franchise player to 11:31 in the first half, but finally freed, Howard romped against the Nets' soft interior defense, giving Nets coach Avery Johnson little choice but to foul, or at least send a hard double-team, on each of his touches. Credit goes to the Magic's perimeter players for looking for Howard inside throughout this game.

Credit to everyone on the Magic, come to think of it, for moving the ball. Orlando had 26 assists on its 39 baskets, and six players tallied at least 3 assists each. One hopes the improved, more willing passing is sustainable due to the newcomers' fit with the existing team, and not a byproduct of a temporary infusion of post-trade enthusiasm and excitement.

At the other end, Orlando tallied 9 steals, one shy of its season high, and forced 15 turnovers on the whole. Stan Van Gundy's never coached his teams to really play the passing lanes all too much, and it's possible the Nets simply committed a lot of dumb mistakes tonight. But from my couch, it looked like Orlando's defense applied pressure on New Jersey's ballhandlers to such a degree they didn't know where to go. Some of that is personnel; apart from Harris, New Jersey doesn't have anyone who can run an offense consistently, and its perimeter players aren't exactly willing passers in the first place. I get that. But forcing turnovers that keep the ball in play can feed that transition game the Magic are trying to emphasize with their new personnel. That development merits our attention going forward.

If you're a Magic fan, it's hard to find too many discouraging signs from this game, if we're honest. The eight players who appeared before garbage time all performed well, with Jason Richardson's 14-point outing standing out in particular after four consecutive uneven performances with Orlando. Brandon Bass continues to stick his mid-range jumper, Ryan Anderson's proven a capable third big-man, Turkoglu's playing with his head screwed on straight... these are all encouraging signs.

Howard's foul trouble did play a role in letting Harris go off for 24 points on an efficient 9-of-15 shooting, though. With no shot-blocker in the game to protect the rim area, Harris drove the ball with impunity and managed to either finish insider or draw a foul. From here, it looks like the rotation of Bass and Anderson can handle the rebounding chores with Howard on the bench, but Orlando needs another backup big man who can at least challenge incoming shots more capably than those two.

Also regarding Howard: he picked up his 11th technical foul of the season tonight, as best I can tell for having some words with the Nets' bench during the first quarter following a call that didn't go his way. This is just silly, frankly. He's now five games away from a league-mandated suspension of one game, after which point he'll pick up one suspension for every two technicals he earns for the rest of the regular season. Howard simply has to do a better job picking his battles here. Forgive me for what I'm about to write, but... whatever he absolutely had to say to New Jersey's bench isn't worth having to sit a game later in the season. It's a Monday night in December and he's playing a lottery team. It's silly to get t'd up under such circumstances.

Orlando can make it four wins in a row tomorrow night at Cleveland.

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