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Orlando Magic 100, Milwaukee Bucks 98

Dwight Howard and Vince Carter, who scored 25 points apiece, led the Orlando Magic to a 100-98 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in a game in which Orlando trailed by as many as 17 in the second half. Rashard Lewis scored the winning bucket, a bank shot off the dribble after driving to his right, with 44.7 seconds left to punctuate a quietly effective night for him. The Bucks had plenty of time to respond to Lewis' bucket, and got a wide-open, three-point look for Ersan Ilyasova at the top of the arc, but it fell well short. Luke Ridnour corralled the long rebound and--apparently going for a two-for-one opportunity--put up a wild jumper almost immediately, but was well off the mark. The Magic needed to shoot, and Carter did. Howard tipped the miss off the glass, and Matt Barnes, inserted for defense on the Bucks' final possession, secured the loose ball to preserve the victory. It was, in short, a wild finish to an entertaining game that saw banner performances from several participants.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 88 113.2 55.8% 18.2 31.0 19.2
Bucks 85 115.4 47.2% 14.4 28.8 7.1
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Some nights, it's not your night. It's a sports cliche that's become cliched because it is, well, true. And when the Magic entered the Bradley Center locker room trailing by a score of 56-47, they might have felt that way. The Bucks shot an absurd 7-of-8 on three-pointers in the first half, and reserve forward Hakim Warrick roasted whomever guarded him inside with a variety of quick moves off the dribble; never before has Magic backup center Marcin Gortat, a stout defender, looked so overmatched. There's only so much a defense can do when it forces the opposition to take contested jumpers, and those jumpers wind up going in. The Bucks, without Andrew Bogut manning the pivot, had no inside game to speak of apart from Warrick's explosive drives. Their jump-shots, some of them wide-open, dropped and dropped and dropped all night, but particularly in the first half. Ridnour made all manner of runners and floaters in the lane, many times after absorbing contact but not earning the benefit of the whistle. The Bucks very much take on the demeanor of their head coach, Scott Skiles: they scrapped, fought hard, never gave up... however you want to put it. The point is they played impressively tonight, missing two of their best players (Bogut and Michael Redd), on the second night of a back-to-back, against the defending Eastern Conference champions. I can't say enough good things about them.

But the Magic were simply better in the second half, and they earned this win. Coach Stan Van Gundy was right when he told the press that the Magic's poor starts in the each of the last two games are causes for concern, but it's hard not to come away impressed with their effort in the second half. Howard avoided foul trouble the entire game and looked to take his D to another gear after intermission, recording all 4 of his blocks in the final 24 minutes, including 2 on 1 possession, and another late in the game when isolated against Bucks rookie point guard Brandon Jennings, who attempted to shoot a jumper over the 6'11" center, to no avail. That the Bucks converted a higher percentage of their three-pointers (57.9%) than their two-pointers (36.6%) is no surprise, given Howard's deterring presence in the lane.

Howard's offense, though, was even more impressive. 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, with only one dunk and three layups. Everything else? Rolling hooks, from either side of the lane, with either hand, and soft touch. Put-backs. He looked like a refined offensive player, teasing impatient Magic fans with glimpses of an elite post game. Alas, tonight's showing is probably the exception to the rule as far as offense is concerned... but the Magic will, quite obviously, take the points any way they can get 'em.

Howard's emergence overshadowed a gutty performance by Carter, who needed 4 stitches to close a gash in his mouth sustained when Charlie Bell inadvertently caught him with an elbow. True to form, Carter proceeded to challenge Bell at every opportunity once he returned, and did so with excellent results. He, like, Howard, finished with 25 points, as I mentioned. He continued to attack the basket, as he's done more often in recent weeks, which can only be a good thing. He missed a few inside looks he should have made, which has been a season-long trend, but the point is he rarely settled for long jumpers. Progress.

The superstars' scoring inside opened the floor up for Lewis, who responded with his best game of the season. He sank 2 of his 3 three-point looks, but also looked to score from mid-range and at the basket; he was not a standstill shooter today. His 9 boards (4 offensive) made him the Magic's second-leading rebounder. A quiet, steady, encouraging game for Lewis, who had struggled with his shot earlier this year as he shakes the cobwebs that gathered during his suspension.

And how about Brandon Bass tonight? Playing for the first time in 10 days, Bass came on and showed why the Magic made him their top free-agency target this summer. In a shade under 9 minutes, Bass scored 8 points on 3-of-4 shooting, grabbed 4 rebounds (2 at either end of the floor), and blocked a shot. His D, which was one of the factors that knocked him out of the rotation lately, still needs work, as he let Warrick blow by him on the left baseline for a monstrous jam... which he missed, luckily enough. But 4 rebounds in 8 minutes, for a power forward who came into the game averaging just over 3 in 21 minutes per game, is tremendous, and the sign of someone who wants his job back. He outplayed Ryan Anderson (2 points and 2 assists in 7 minutes) tonight and showed that he can be useful against certain kinds of teams.

I've made a lot of this recap sound rosy, which is bound to happen when the Magic overcome a big deficit to win late. Still, there are several causes for concern. Defense, sure; Milwaukee shouldn't be able to score 115 points per 100 possessions on anyone, at least not with Redd and Bogut on the sideline. They made tough jumpers a lot of the night, which they had to do given their personnel. But the Magic should be worried that Ilyasova managed to grab 16 rebounds against them, especially 7 on offense. He's a fine player, but against great rebounders like Howard and Gortat, he should not be able to get free. Turnovers were also a problem for Orlando. Point guard Jason Williams played 34 minutes without committing any, against 10 assists, which is great to see. But Howard and Carter committed 9 themselves, of the Magic's 18 total. It's true that Milwaukee tends to force a lot of turnovers, so some of that is to be expected. However, under no reasonable circumstances should the Magic give the ball away once every five times down the court. That sort of offense won't get it done against the NBA's better teams.

The Magic wrap up this four-game, five-night, four-city stretch of their schedule tomorrow evening in New York. If they can hold off the fast-paced Knicks for their 8th win in 9 tries, they'll wind up turning a lot of heads. But they can't look ahead to hypothetical results, lest they get run off the floor in the first half, as they almost were tonight in Milwaukee and Thanksgiving night in Atlanta.