Led by Dwight Howard's 20 points and 22 rebounds, the Orlando Magic held off a pesky New Jersey Nets team, 95-85, to improve to 2-0 on the young NBA season. The Magic were without the services of former Net Vince Carter for much of the evening, as he sprained his left ankle trying to drive around Devin Harris in the second quarter. Carter was spectacular in his 15 minutes of play, setting the tone on the first possession of the game with a vintage, driving slam on Brook Lopez. He finished with 16 points and 4 assists in limited minutes. With him, the Magic likely would have cruised to victory; without him, though, they struggled, and looked the part of a team not quite in top form.
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Give credit to the Nets for not relenting. They shot poorly--Yi Jianlian, at 5-of-8, was the only New Jersey player to connect on at least 50% of his field goals--but mitigated it by keeping control of the ball. However, with Howard ending their possessions via a rebound (18 on the defensive end) or a blocked shot (4), they did not have the firepower to mount a serious comeback even as the Magic's offense stagnated. Trust me, this game wasn't one for the time capsule.
One of the Magic's biggest strengths this season is supposed to be their bench, but tonight, the reserve unit struggled. Matt Barnes, in particular, played erratically: 0-of-6 shooting, 0 points, 0 assists, and 3 turnovers in 24 minutes. To be fair, some of his misses can be attributed to his getting stuck with the ball as the shot clock wound down, but he indeed made some questionable decisions. Marcin Gortat was ineffective in his 11 minutes. A better team than New Jersey would have taken advantage of the Magic's lazy offense with the reserve unit.
Two reserves, though, stood out. J.J. Redick was pressed into heavy minutes with Carter's absence, and he responded. At times last year he appeared to force the issue, entirely too conscious of the pressure on him to produce. Tonight, he was much more easygoing. 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting, with 5 rebounds, for J.J. in 29 minutes. Former Magic guard Courtney Lee got the best of him on occasion, twice baiting him into committing a shooting foul with a mere pump fake. Still, the box score doesn't do J.J.'s overall sound play justice.
Speaking of Lee, he did have the look of a player with something to prove, with 11 first-half points. But all he proved tonight is that he's not quite ready to be a second- or third-option on offense. He wound up leading the Nets with 18 points, but he needed 17 shots to get there. And in 41 minutes, he mustered just 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 steals. I don't want to sound like I'm piling on him, since he's a good player, and could become a great one. But one only need look at Ryan Anderson's performance (16 points on 6-of-10 shooting in just 23 minutes) to see that he's a better fit for the Magic's offense than Lee was.
The Magic's ugly offense somewhat detracts from their overall solid defense. Harris, Lee, and Lopez--the Nets' cornerstones--shot 15-of-43 for 44 points. Open looks came few and far between, and with only 7 offensive rebounds, the Nets' possessions were often one-shot-and-done. That much is encouraging for Orlando. Nevertheless, the poor performance on the offensive side of the ball will probably give coach Stan Van Gundy pause; the Nets shouldn't have been able to give the Magic nearly that much trouble.
Orlando will face Carter's other former team, the Toronto Raptors, in a Sunday matinee. Whether or not Carter's ankle will heal in time to play remains to be seen.
UPDATE: Joshua Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel Tweets this news on Carter's ankle:
Per the Sun Sports feed -- Stan Van Gundy told reporters: X-rays showed no fracture in Vince Carter's left ankle. Not much swelling.