Behind 16 points, 24 rebounds, and three blocked shots from center Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic cruised past the New Jersey Nets, 94-78, on Thursday to run their record to 2-1 on the season. The Magic limited the Nets to 37.7 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers. Were it not for a defensive lapse late in the first half and an offensive drought in the fourth quarter, Orlando could have taken this one by 30 points or more.
Ryan Anderson led Orlando with 22 points against his former team, while J.J. Redick continued his strong play off the Magic's bench with 15 points in 23 minutes. Generally speaking, Orlando moved the ball well--it tallied 25 assists on its 36 baskets--even when starting point guard Jameer Nelson was on the bench. A neck injury suffered early in the second half forced him to leave the game for good, but backup Chris Duhon acquitted himself in his 28 minutes.
The lone Net for whom the Magic hadn't an answer was rookie scoring guard MarShon Brooks, who poured in 17 points in 21 minutes, including 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the second period to bring New Jersey back to within striking distance of Orlando. Brooks' quick first step enabled him to generate separation from his man with ease, and with Howard sidelined due to foul trouble, the Magic had no one inside to challenge him near the rim.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's 2010/11 average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's 2010/11 average.
Apart from Brooks' second-period flurry, however, the Nets failed to get much going offensively. Playing All-Star point guard Deron Williams off the ball, as coach Avery Johnson elected to do for some stretches Thursday, did little to ignite New Jersey's offense. The team moved the ball reasonably well in spurts, getting some decent looks in the corners and on the baselines for some of the night, but too often the Nets played one-on-one offensively, with poor spacing and off-ball movement to boot. To the Magic's credit, they closed out on the Nets' shooters well all evening, but there's more to the Nets' poor offense than what Orlando did defensively.
Contrast New Jersey's approach with Orlando's and there's little wonder the Magic won more than twice as many games as the Nets did last season. The Magic kept the ball moving and the Nets guessing for most of the night. Redick, serving as a secondary ballhandler with Hedo Turkoglu initiating the offense in Nelson's absence, made several great feeds, finishing with three assists, while Turkoglu added seven. Howard's presence in the pivot opens the Magic's offense up, of course, as he commands attention from multiple defenders, and not merely his own. But that's true in every game. On Thursday, Orlando did an excellent job of leveraging the Nets' extra attention on Howard against them. That model is one for which it should strive as the season progresses, no matter the opponent.
Jason Richardson played a role in Orlando's solid offensive night as well. Though he needed 14 shot attempts and six free throws to notch his 16 points, Richardson played to his strengths offensively. He fired away from beyond the arc just three times, instead making a concerted effort to drive to the rim and draw contact. Though he doesn't have the jets or hops he did during his Slam Dunk-winning days, Richardson still has enough left to create his own shot. It helps that noted turnstile Anthony Morrow was assigned to cover him, but again, credit him for taking advantage of the situation and not settling for anything.
And a few words on Duhon: yeah, it's a little odd that a guy known as a pass-first point guard winds up being the tertiary ballhandler when he's on the floor--Turkoglu and Redick took turns bringing the ball up--but hey, it worked, at least on Thursday. All Orlando asks of Duhon is that he reads the defense properly and knocks down an open shot every now and again. That's what Duhon did against the Nets, drilling three open three-pointers off the catch for nine points on the night. He is, in effect, playing the role Derek Fisher does with the Los Angeles Lakers. It seems to suit him. Duhon, by the way, has four triples through three games; he made 13 threes all of last season.
Sure, it would have been nice if Orlando had managed to keep Brooks out of the paint during his eight-minute stint in the second period. And it would have been nice if the Magic could have shot more accurately from the field; the fact that I'm praising their offense in a game in which they failed to score at the rate they did last season is not lost on me. But they took care of business, as the saying goes, on their home floor against a team they ought to have beat. That'll do.