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Orlando Magic 106, Indiana Pacers 98

The Orlando Magic rode Vince Carter's offense, Dwight Howard's defense, and the superb all-around play of reserve guards Anthony Johnson and J.J. Redick to an impressive, 106-98 win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. Indiana raced out to a 30-point first quarter and at one time doubled up the Magic at 34-17, but Johnson and Redick keyed the Magic's 21-6 run to bring them back into the game. The Pacers, without All-Star forward and leading scorer Danny Granger, played a great offensive game for the first 42 minutes, sinking open jumpers with ease against an uncharacteristically soft Magic defense. They closed the game out with 4 points on their final 11 possessions, including 3 turnovers. Jon will have more on the Magic's defense in this game later this week, but suffice it to say that Orlando's effort in the game's waning moments more than made up for the porousness that characterized their early defensive stands.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Pacers 92 107.0 51.7% 8.0 15.9 10.9
Magic 94 113.4 47.1% 29.1 22.4 7.5
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Orlando came out of the gate looking like it was on the second night of a back-to-back, even though it had 2 days of rest after its 4-game, 8-day road trip. Indeed, Howard and Carter were the only Magic players to score until the 10:20 mark of the second period, when Matt Barnes got into the scoring column with a driving layup. Carter nearly missed the game due to a stomach ailment which kept him out of practice today and yesterday, but you wouldn't know it based on his performance tonight. He looked to get to the rim and create contact, and save for a vintage Carter no-no-no-no-yes! shot--a pull-up three on the fast break, with 5 Pacers defenders back, which he made--he didn't appear to settle too often. No, he forced the issue, to the Magic's benefit. 28 points for Carter on 10-of-21 shooting, to go with an impressive 7 defensive boards and no turnovers in 33 minutes.

Redick's strong play limited Carter's playing time a bit, as coach Stan Van Gundy couldn't afford to take Redick off the floor. Redick made plays and baskets, without making mistakes. 13 points on 7 shots, with 4 assists and no turnovers. Redick's growth into a sound all-around player has been a pleasure to watch, and he's playing his way into a decent portion of the mid-level exception when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. We'll save the discussion about whether or not the Magic should keep him until much later this year, however.

Overall, the energy Johnson and Redick brought may have proven to be the difference in the game. Johnson has far outplayed starting point guard Jason Williams of late; Williams missed all 4 of his shots tonight and tallied 1 assist, while Johnson scored 13 and added 7 assists. He simply looks fresher than Williams, and the burden of starting 13 consecutive games during Jameer Nelson's absence appears to have taken its toll. Johnson's the sharper, fresher point guard, and while I wouldn't put him in the starting lineup ahead of Williams, I would make sure he's on the floor with victory on the line, as he has been in each of the Magic's last two games. A.J. has never really dazzled me with his passing ability, his on-point crosscourt pass to Rashard Lewis for an open three-pointer with 2:11 to play was impressive. The Pacers overloaded the right side of the floor to account for Johnson's penetration; he read the defense and threw the ball right to Lewis' shooting pocket. The shot had a certain ring of inevitability to it--play-by-play man David Steele said "He's due!" with the shot en route--and when it dropped, it gave Orlando a 5-point lead, not to mention the momentum.

Even with Indiana's strong start and the Magic's poor shooting, I never got the sense that the Pacers were in firm control, mostly because their offense didn't look sustainable. Howard locked down the middle with 4 blocks, and it never ceases to amuse me when an offensive player drives, recognizes Howard's presence, and dribbles back out to re-set, as Tyler Hansbrough did at least once tonight. But the Pacers were effectively counting on T.J. Ford, Earl Watson, Jeff Foster, and Brandon Rush to knock down jumpers if Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy were covered. That well was bound to dry-up eventually. No Pacer seemed eager to drive the ball, even if only to create contact. The result was a meager 10 free-throw attempts 2 of which came quite late with the outcome already decided. Howard shot 22 on his own, while the Carter/Redick shooting guard tandem combined for another 10.

On the one hand, the Magic needed a big rally just to beat a lottery team, on the road, missing its best player, which could be cause for concern; on the other, they looked dominant for almost every minute after the disastrous first quarter, and they won with a team effort rather than a monstrous individual one, which bears noting. Great teams rarely fall into such large holes against lesser ones, but when they do, they (usually) respond. That's what Orlando did tonight.

You know what Howard did tonight? He only rebounded the Pacers' starting frontline of Dunleavy, Murphy, and Roy Hibbert by himself, 23-15. You know, in addition to shooting more than twice as many free throws as the entire Pacers team. Howard needs to deliver more of these dominant performances, especially on nights when the offense needs a kick-start. Orlando exceeded its usual offensive efficiency despite shooting poorly, aided both by Howard's offensive rebounding giving it second-chance points as well as by everyone's taking care of the ball. Of Orlando's 7 turnovers tonight, 2 were obvious offensive fouls, and another was a shot-clock violation with 4 seconds left and nothing at stake except for stats to pad (Johnson missed a layup, Howard gathered the rebound and bungled a tip-in attempt). In other words, only 4 came due to silly passes or ballhandling errors. Sharp decision-making compensates for a lack of sharp shooting.

Overall, Orlando responded fairly well after a lackluster road trip, and can continue looking forward to playing 6 of the final 7 games of the calendar year at Amway Arena. Great to see the second unit deliver when called upon, although it'd be much nicer if Lewis, Williams, and Mickael Pietrus simply played better to begin with.