The Orlando Magic shook off a lazy first-half effort and rode Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson to a 106-97 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, a margin which would have been larger had Wayne Ellington not drilled two meaningless three-pointers--his only made baskets of the night--in the final 52 seconds. Howard stuffed the stat sheet in a truly ridiculous way, posting one of the best all-around performances of his career in just 31 minutes: 24 points on 6-of-7 shooting, 19 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 4 blocks. Anderson, playing meaningful minutes in relief of Rashard Lewis for the first time since February 26th, added 19 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes. He scored 7 straight Magic points in a 1:57 stretch bridging the first and second quarters, tying the game at 29 early in the second period with a pair of free throws earned after Howard corralled Anderson's off-the-mark three-pointer from the corner and dished back to him cutting baseline. Anderson's first shot, a three-pointer from the wing, found nothing but the bottom of the net, which he said "is big" for his confidence. It was the sort of dominant tandem performance that might have the Magic organization thinking long-term about the viability of such a pairing, which was fitting on a night when Howard lined up across from Darko Milicic, whom the team once regarded as a potential power-forward partner for Howard. The Magic took control of the game in the second and third periods, outscoring the Wolves by a 55-34 margin thanks largely to the three-point shot; they made 7 in their 18 triple-tries between the two periods. That's the norm for Minnesota, as Milicic observed after the game: "[The third quarter] is where we lose a lot of games. We have a lot of games that at halftime we are right there."
|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.
Prior to the game, I wondered if Orlando would hammer Minnesota early, as it did Golden State two weeks ago. A home game, against a struggling team, this late in the season, with the Magic clicking... it really should not have been competitive for very long. But I give the Wolves a lot of credit. For a team that'd lost 14 straight games prior to tonight, they looked pretty solid, albeit against a Magic team that merely went through the motions for much of the first half. Coach Stan Van Gundy said his team didn't have "much of a sense of urgency defensively" in the first half, but praised its work on that end of the floor in the second. Orlando limited Minnesota to 15-of-41 shooting in the final 24 minutes, which Minnesota almost made up for with more frequent trips to the foul line: it shot 10-of-13 on its free throws to hang around just long enough to annoy Van Gundy, who subbed Howard back into the game at the 3:23 mark of the final period after the Wolves went on an 8-0 run, cutting Orlando's lead to 14 points. Of that decision, Van Gundy said, "To me, that's when you don't screw around. When you've got a game, you make sure you get it. I don't want to be giving one away."
Howard and Anderson will get much of the praise for this win, and it's much-deserved; Van Gundy dubbed Howard's play "tremendous" and said Anderson's ability to come right in and play well after weeks out of the rotation was "a credit to him." But this win was truly a team effort. The work those two did overshadows that of J.J. Redick, Vince Carter, and Matt Barnes, for instance. Redick scored 14 points on 8 shots off the bench and made consecutive three-pointers to start the fourth period, which boosted Orlando's lead to 15 points, then its best of the night; it later ballooned to 21. Carter scored only 13 points in 40 minutes, but the team didn't really need his scoring tonight. He took just 9 shots, and finished with 5 assists. He was in playmaking mode, and tended to fade into the background when playing small forward with the second unit. That's not a criticism; he let Anderson and Redick, who had the hot hands, carry the load. "That's what you ask, that guys just stay ready," he said of Anderson's professionalism and performance.
Barnes? 11 points on 11 shots, which isn't too efficient. His work on the glass, though, helped tremendously. He snared 7 rebounds tonight and helped keep Minnesota--which, in Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, has two fantastic rebounders--at a severe disadvantage on the glass. Orlando owned the boards, with a 51-39 edge in that category. Jefferson had the quietest 13-rebound game I can ever remember a player having.
Orlando's problem on D in the first half was its reluctance to protect the paint, as it surrendered 32 points there, on 16-of-27 shooting. Milicic connected on a series of jump-hooks with both hands--over Howard, no less--and even showed his former teammate up a little in the second quarter. After flipping in a hook with his right hand, the southpaw glared at it as he ran back on defense, a move Howard cribbed from Shaquille O'Neal. Jefferson, matched up with Rashard Lewis, had an easier go of it. But he extended his game beyond the paint by sinking a few jumpers.
Despite the solid second-half defensive game, the Magic didn't win tonight with their D. It was the Wolves' struggle to contain anything the Magic did that decided the outcome. Howard's 24 points were effortless, and after the first few three-pointers of the second half dropped in, the Wolves seemed to hang their heads. "They have too many great shooters around," Jefferson said. Kurt Rambis, his coach, concurred, saying the inside-out attack "puts a lot of stress" on a defense.
Stressing the defense was a priority for Van Gundy, who put Anderson back in the lineup to disrupt the Wolves' strategy of sending their second big man at Howard in the post. Had Brandon Bass, the mid-range-shooting power forward who'd taken over for Anderson of late, been on the floor with Howard, Minnesota could have doubled off him from the top of the key or the weak-side baseline. But Anderson stretches the defense with his three-point range. "That's why we went with him," Van Gundy said, while adding that Anderson's solid performance in Minnesota in January also played a role in his decision.
So tonight the Magic took care of business, albeit in a pretty boring way. They've got a tougher road ahead of them, including a back-to-back set in Texas against San Antonio and Dallas this week. Solid work tonight putting away a far inferior team, even if the game wasn't always watchable, between the Wolves' ugly buckets inside and the Magic's carelessness with the ball.