The Orlando Magic played just well enough in the first half to create sufficient separation between themselves and the Milwaukee Bucks, coasting for the final 24 minutes in their 97-87 victory, their seventh straight. Dwight Howard anchored it all with 28 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals for Orlando. He also helped keep Andrew Bogut off the court, as the Bucks' franchise center fouled out in just 30 minutes and did not factor into the game offensively. Corey Maggette led the Bucks with 21 points off the bench, shooting 7-of-9 from the floor in a vintage Maggette performance. He simply didn't get enough help from his teammates, however. Rookie big man Larry Sanders contributed 15 points and 8 boards, but the perimeter triad of John Salmons, Earl Boykins, and Ersan Ilyasova combined to shoot 11-of-41 from the floor for 30 points, undermining Milwaukee's efforts to stay in the game.
But indeed the Bucks charged hard late, outscoring Orlando, 54-48, in the second half. Their long jumpers started falling at a high rate, while the Magic's defense offered little resistance and its offense withered away. Coach Stan Van Gundy was displeased with his team's second-half performance. He opened his post-game news conference by saying flatly, "I thought we played a very good first half." He revisited that point in greater detail later.
"The question I'm asking is," he said, "'Are you going to play with great energy and great pace?' They're not [....] I haven't liked playing half a game these last two games. I haven't liked it."
The Magic have turned in some uninspiring performances, with a poor first half against Golden State and tonight's lethargic second half against Milwaukee. This is clearly a case of a team happy to pick up another win, but not happy with the way in which it happened, a point which Jason Richardson addressed in the locker room.
"We had a chance to bury them and we didn't. Right now, we just want to get wins, especially as a new team. We learned something about ourselves. We learned tonight you've got to bury teams no matter what."
|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.
Milwaukee's had a disappointing season so far, with this loss dropping it to 13-20 on the year. However, on paper, this team ought to have been a battle of two very strong Eastern teams. The play on the court didn't reflect as much, though. Both clubs took good enough care of the ball, and Milwaukee even shot a solid 42.9 percent on three-pointers. But the game was simply very ugly on the eyes. The Bucks, without point guard Brandon Jennings, had no choice but to play isolation ball, resulting in clanked jumper after clanked jumper, as no player save for Maggette asserted himself with drives to the basket.
Orlando wasn't much better, but good enough, thanks largely to Howard. Even with Bogut, one of the league's better defensive centers--arguably the best one apart from Howard, come to think of it--the Bucks couldn't contain Orlando's star, and he scored almost at will. He shot 9-of-16 from the floor and 10-of-15 from the foul line, caught the ball in great position almost every trip down the court, and even drained two jumpers. His play impressed Van Gundy, who lamented having to play him the entire second half.
"I was disappointed in how some of our other guys played in the second half," Van Gundy said, "so we got into the situation where we are hanging on for dear life and Dwight plays the entire second half. It's just not what we want to be doing every night, but if our other guys don't play better than they did tonight, then we are forced into that."
He did not mention the "other guys" by name, but comments later in the conference indicated he meant Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass, the only two other big men to play tonight. They combined for 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting, but also committed 4 fouls apiece. Moreover, Van Gundy singled out Anderson for his poor performance on the glass since rejoining the rotation.
It wasn't all negative for Orlando, though. Despite the lackluster overall showing, Van Gundy praised Richardson and Jameer Nelson, his starting guards, for their energy and effort. The former scored 13 points and finished Orlando's portion of the scoring with lob finishes at the rim on back-to-back possessions, stil running the floor even with the game well in hand. Nelson didn't exactly flirt with a triple-double, but he at least considered sending it a Valentine: 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists for "the heart of this team," as Howard referred to him in the locker room.
Perhaps the dimmest spot, the subject about which Van Gundy was the most sore, was the play of backup point guard Gilbert Arenas. He missed all 7 of his two-point attempts and did not tally an assist in 13 minutes. "I didn't think he played well tonight, at either end [of the court]," Van Gundy said of one of the team's newest additions. "We'll move forward into the next game."
Arenas did not speak to the media after the game.