Orlando Magic 111, Phoenix Suns 88

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 13: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic slam dunks the ball over Robin Lopez #15 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game at US Airways Center on March 13, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Orlando Magic rode a monstrous 26-point, 15-rebound, 5-block game from Dwight Howard in easily dispatching the Phoenix Suns, 111-88, Sunday afternoon in a game in which they never trailed. Howard led seven Magic players in double-figure scoring as Orlando put on an offensive clinic, scoring with ease against a Suns defense that simply couldn't take anything away.

The Magic clung to just a 9-point lead at intermission, as Phoenix executed its offense well, featuring Aaron Brooks and Marcin Gortat in a smart pick-and-roll game Orlando struggled to cover. The pair combined for 29 points on 13-of-16 shooting in the first half, with Gortat flashing some pick-and-pop ability he never managed to showcase while a member of the Magic.

But after halftime, the Magic bottled Brooks up and in so doing ground Phoenix's offense to a halt. The Suns scored just 13 points in the third quarter, shooting 4-of-19 from the field with 4 turnovers, as Orlando put the game well out of reach. When the fourth quarter started, Orlando led by 22, and garbage time began in earnest for the players, fans, and broadcasters.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 94 118.1 50.0% 29.1 31.8 12.8
Suns 94 93.6 41.3% 27.5 18.9 12.8
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

This game presents plenty of challenges to me because it's one of those that went about the way it ought to have, minus Brooks' rediscovery of his jumper in the first half, which was a surprise. But by and large, the game proceeded as scripted, with the Suns unable to stop Howard and Brandon Bass (17 points in just 29 minutes) inside and the Magic's perimeter players getting open looks from the outside as well.

There are two encouraging signs from this game if you're Orlando: first, the team responded to a lackluster defensive first half by making the proper adjustments--really, just giving more of a damn, it appeared to me--in the second half. Their work on that end in the third quarter secured victory.

Second, Gilbert Arenas continues to play smart, efficient basketball. Splitting time between both guard spots--he filled in for the injured J.J. Redick at the two--Arenas poured in 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting in 27 minutes. And this wasn't an instance of a busted watch being right twice a day, either; Arenas moved fluidly, mixed his inside game with his outside game, and generally looked healthy. It's his third straight game, and fifth in his last seven appearances, reaching double figures. The Magic don't need him to dominate in order to win; they just need 15-20 minute of competent ball in relief of Jameer Nelson per night, with some scoring. Arenas' putrid February jaded a lot of Orlando fans, but speaking as someone who's not easily impressed by small, scoring guards, let me assure you that Arenas looked fantastic today.

The Magic wrapped this game up easily enough so they ought to be fairly well rested for their 2009 NBA Finals re-match--is it fair to bill a game as a rematch if the original match happened two years ago, and if the two parties have engaged each other since?--with the L.A. Lakers tomorrow in prime time.

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