Orlando Magic 111, Indiana Pacers 96

The Orlando Magic used a winning formula of balanced offense and hot three-point shooting to dispatch the Indiana Pacers, 111-96, Wednesday night. Six Magic players scored in double figures and the team drained 16 three-pointers in holding off scuffling Indiana, which has now lost 6 straight games. Dwight Howard and Jason Richardson scored 19 points apiece to lead Orlando, while Hedo Turkoglu added 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Pacers stars Danny Granger and Darren Collison scored 27 and 21, respectively, but their teammates provided them precious little help. Further, the Pacers did almost all their damage outside the paint, with Howard limiting counterpart Roy Hibbert to 4 points on 2-of-6 shooting in 15 minutes. Granger worked his way to the foul line for 12 makes in 13 tries, but otherwise proved ineffective. Collison, meanwhile, managed to free himself for stepback jumpers with relative ease.

Orlando won in a rout, but the Pacers rather deceptively made a game of it in the fourth quarter, drawing to within 7 points on one occasion; later, a Mike Dunleavy three-pointer from the right wing just rimmed out, a bullet the Magic managed to dodge, as it would have trimmed their lead to just 5 points with 9:32 to play. After the buzzer, Howard told Pacers sideline reporter Stacy Paetz he didn't like the way his team failed to close the game out in the fourth quarter. Really, however, the Magic's struggles began in the waning moments of the third. A pair of Richardson foul shots gave the Magic a 23-point lead with 5:47 to go in the penultimate frame, but the Pacers closed the period on a 15-6 run, drawing to within striking distance of the visitors.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 92 121.3 59.8% 15.9 19.5 14.2
Pacers 95 100.6 45.9% 21.2 17.4 11.7
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

I can't say for sure, but I have to think Howard's pleased with his team's execution on offense. Tonight's game was a great example of how his very presence dictates everything the Magic do, on both ends of the court. Howard put in 19 points, 16 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocked shots, which is a fairly standard line for him; account for his mediocre shooting (8-of-16 from the floor, 3-of-8 at the foul line) and you can argue it was below his standards. But his presence opened up everything for his teammates at the offensive end. True enough, Ryan Anderson and Gilbert Arenas managed to drill some three-pointers with Howard resting in the first half, but throughout the game, Indiana's preoccupation with Howard freed his teammates for easy scores. Brandon Bass doesn't get to drive and dunk unimpeded down the lane, for example, if Paul George isn't afraid to help off Howard. Turkoglu doesn't bag long deuce after long deuce without Howard's help setting screens.

And defensively, Howard played about as solidly as one can play, not accounting for his two silly goaltends. After an ugly first five minutes for Hibbert--in which Howard scored easily over him twice, blocked one of his shots and altered another--the Pacers appeared to lose confidence in their young center, and coach Jim O'Brien played him sparingly, electing to play smaller with Jeff Foster and Solomon Jones instead. Though Hibbert's regressed each month this season, he's still capable of scoring in the post. Without Hibbert on the floor, the Pacers tried running post-ups for Tyler Hansbrough... and no one else. Collison capably orchestrated the Pacers' run between the third and fourth quarters by attacking in the pick-and-roll, but overall, Indiana needed jumper after jumper after jumper to have any hope of sticking in this game. And Orlando defended it ably, for the most part. None of that happens without Howard asserting himself against Hibbert early. You've got to like that, if you're Orlando.

As well as the starters played, Arenas and Anderson helped the Magic get separation off their bench in the second period. Anderson drilled three threes in the first 4:25 of the quarter, with Arenas adding another for good measure. Anderson's final trey of the period gave the Magic a 47-30 lead; less than five minutes earlier, the game had been knotted at 21. Indiana wasn't keen to watch the three-point line, and had the Pacers not launched 30 threes themselves, I would've guessed they didn't know shots from beyond the arc counted for three points, so inept was their perimeter defense.

Orlando cann rest tomorrow before taking on the Chicago Bulls in an important Eastern Conference battle, with playoff implications, on Friday. The offensive execution--five Magic players tallied at least 3 assists tonight--and hot shooting should please coach Stan Van Gundy, but the perimeter defense that allowed Granger and Collison to pop off for 48 points, albeit on mediocre efficiency, will likely give him pause as he gameplans for Derrick Rose.

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