Orlando Magic 97, Dallas Mavericks 82

The well-rested Orlando Magic bombed their way to a victory over the tired Dallas Mavericks, draining 14 three-pointers in a 97-82 contest. Mickael Pietrus, who hadn't played in over a week due to a sprained left ankle, led Orlando with 24 points in 18 minutes off the bench, making all 6 of his three-point tries in a tremendous showing. Dwight Howard carried a stagnant Orlando offense early, and finished with an impressive 17-point, 20-rebound, 5-block night. And although neither Jameer Nelson (6-of-14) nor Vince Carter (8-of-17) played efficiently overall, they warmed up in the second half just long enough to hold off any of Dallas' rallies, combining to score 28 of their 33 points after intermission. Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 to lead the Mavericks, who shot just 38.3% from the field and struggled to get many clean looks after the first period. The win is Orlando's 14th in its last 16 games and moves it another step toward clinching the second overall playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 85 114.5 58.3% 18.1 17.9 16.5
Mavericks 85 96.5 40.7% 19.8 21.7 11.8
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

If nothing else, this game is a lesson in the law of averages. The first time these teams played, the Magic missed 21 of their 25 three-pointers and got just 6 points on 3-of-19 shooting from their bench. The odds that Dallas would limit the league's fifth-best three-point-shooting team like that twice in one season were slim, and it showed. Within the first 2:07 of the second quarter, Pietrus hit a pair of triples to match the reserves' output from the last game. But he didn't stop there, scoring 9 more points the rest of the quarter with some aggressive, mostly in-control drives to the basket. Perhaps playing against his good friend Rodrigue Beaubois at the NBA level for the first time inspired him. Perhaps playing in the American Airlines Center, which he's lit up before, worked to his advantage. Perhaps the week off and new pair of sneakers helped. The reason isn't as important as the result, in this case. The Magic needed offense early, and Pietrus provided it.

He also helped close the door with three timely treys in the fourth period, each one further diminishing Dallas' slim odds. He was in-rhythm and decisive on those threes; no hesitation, pump fakes, step-backs, or any of the other tricks that he sometimes tries. Just catching and shooting. At the 3:37 mark of the 4th period he knocked one in to boost Orlando's lead to 15. The Mavericks' J.J. Barea, the Inch-High Point Guard Guy, trimmed Orlando's lead to 9 points with 1:14 to play with an impressive drive around Howard, keeping their hopes alive, only to see Pietrus bag another three on Orlando's ensuing possession, ending the drama. He fired away again with the outcome already sealed, and that one too found the mark. Just unreal.

But the first half, prior to Pietrus' shooting and the arrival of Nelson and Carter to consciousness, was a bore. Neither team could get any sort of rhythm going, and a helter-skelter game with lots of missed jumpers and fast-break chances broke out. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy put a stop to that with a timeout to settle his team down. In an interview with TNT's Craig Sager after the first quarter, Van Gundy said the 18-16 score was not indicative of either team playing great defenses; both teams missed easy shots, he said, and I tended to agree. The difference, really, was that Dallas never got around to making shots, due largely to Orlando tightening the screws defensively. And while the Mavericks limited Howard to just 8 points after the first period, it hardly mattered, with almost everyone feeling it from the outside, and with Carter and Nelson getting their mid-range game going.

The Mavericks did not have the schedule on their side tonight, having played in overtime in Memphis last night, so I expected their offense to be a bit flat to start. But this team, right down the line, missed jumpers left and right, and I mean that in the most literal sense: many of their shots came up wide left or wide right, instead of short or long. Jason Kidd fired a three-pointer from the left wing that managed to clank off the backboard at least 6 inches to the left of the rim, for instance. Nothing came easily to them. I'm quite excited to see HoopData's boxscore for this game, because I imagine Dallas' shot percentage at the rim will be well below 40%. The Mavs squandered several fast-breaks with blown layups or offensive fouls, and their tip-ins were frequently off the mark as well. Credit Howard for bottling up the painted area, for the most part, tonight. 5 blocked shots--though 1 of them came on Jason Terry's three-point heave from beyond midcourt to end the first half--several more altered, and he quite often managed to challenge shots while still recovering in time to take either Erick Dampier or Brendan Haywood, the Mavericks' rebounding specialists at center, out of the play.

And in a lot of ways, Orlando can live with Nowitzki's 24 points. He took 22 shots, few of them clean, and attempted only 6 free throws. It's Barea, who scored 16 in 17 minutes, with whom it should be concerned. He's the latest in a line of short, speedy point guards to give the Magic problems this season. He, Nowitzki, and Dampier were the only Mavericks to tally more points than shot attempts tonight. Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, and Shawn Marion combined to shoot 4-of-21 from the floor for 14 points, with Butler going scoreless.

With several factors in Orlando's favor coming into the game, it would have needed to play awful ball in order to lose. The Mavericks are a tired team and not nearly as good as their record suggests, for reasons I explained in the game preview. Though they played hard, and really competed--the rebounding column, which shows a 43-42 Orlando advantage, attests to that--they could not keep up with the Magic, playing at full strength and with fresh legs.

The Magic will be subjected to a similar situation as Dallas was tonight when they face the San Antonio Spurs tomorrow. We'll see if they have enough in 'em to make it a 2-0 road trip against two Western teams in playoff contention.

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