Six Orlando Magic players scored in double-figures, and Orlando drilled 16 three-pointers in routing the Philadelphia 76ers tonight, 109-93. Rashard Lewis led all scorers with 24 points, while Dwight Howard added 23 with 15 rebounds. The pesky, spirited 76ers gave an honest effort, but consistently hurt their cause with silly fouls and poor defense of the three-point line. And with the Magic's league-best transition defense slowing their running game, the 76ers had to rely on half-court offense to keep the game competitive. That approach worked for brief stretches, but wasn't viable over the course of the whole game, and Orlando prevailed fairly easily. The win is the Magic's 50th of the year and, on a smaller scale, their 10th in their last 11 tries.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Really, this game almost got away from Orlando early. It defended Philadelphia reasonably well initially, but didn't look too interested in chasing down loose balls or offensive rebounds. Thus, Samuel Dalembert and even a sadly slowed Elton Brand managed to get several easy, second-chance dunks in the first quarter. The Magic's indifference carried to the offensive end as well, with sloppy passes and overall poor decision-making. Despite the lax early effort, Orlando closed the first quarter on a 12-4 run, which gave the sense that it'd easily take this game if it could simply play sharper, smarter ball.
To curb the deficit on the glass and in hustle areas, and to give himself a chance to look at a lineup he hasn't seen often as he gears up for the postseason, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy paired Howard and Marcin Gortat, his backup, at the power positions for certain stretches tonight. This decision, really, is the biggest development from tonight's game, as I see it. In the short term, it ratchets up the competition for backup power forward minutes behind Lewis, with Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson already scrapping for them. It also allows Van Gundy to evaluate the Howard/Gortat pairing in time for the postseason, as I said, when their size might come in handy against the likes of Cleveland and Boston. Long-term, though, it could work to keep Gortat in Orlando. We'll have more on this subject later this week.
But back to the game. The Magic indeed buckled down, especially in the third quarter, during which Andre Iguodala scored 13 of his 23 points to lead a valiant 76ers charge. Lewis blocked Jason Smith's dunk attempt from behind, and moments later, Carter snatched the ball from behind Jason Kapono as he wound up for a three-pointer. Whatever Van Gundy and his staff said to them at halftime made an impression, clearly, because the Magic squad we saw in the first half would not have made those plays. In fairly short order, the game shifted from Orlando playing down to its competition to Orlando taking care of business, which is what we're used to of late.
Howard did his damage in the manner you'd expect: offensive rebounds or post-ups in single coverage against Dalembert or the helpless Marreese Speights. Dalembert's a solid defender, but no match for Howard in transition, when Howard managed to run to the rim, establish himself deep in the post, and either dunk or draw a foul. He also added a few beautiful hook shots, which again highlights the outdated nature of much of the criticism levied at him. 9-of-11 shooting for Howard, but just 5-of-12 from the foul line.
Lewis, though, was a bit more surprising. 24 points on the night, but on just 3 made three-pointers. He rarely settled for anything; if he had a three-point look, but also saw Brand or Smith out of position, he'd drive to the basket and pull up for two. We don't typically associate the words "aggression" and "assertiveness" with the soft-spoken, jump-shooting Lewis, but he has indeed player more aggressively and assertively lately. I don't think we should expect him to convert those little 6-foot pull-ups at such a high rate, but the fact that he's even taking them is encouraging from Orlando's perspective. Three straight games with 20+ points for Lewis, which ties a season-high.
Also encouraging? Vince Carter's night. He missed 7 of his 11 shots from the field, but stayed aggressive and thus earned 8 free throws. 17 points on the night, as well as a quiet 5 assists, his fourth straight game with at least 5. He's figured things out in Orlando, it seems, and will be dangerous provided he continues to play this way throughout the postseason.