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Orlando Magic 97, Los Angeles Clippers 86

Dwight Howard's stellar all-around play keyed the Orlando Magic's 8th consecutive road win tonight as they defeated the host Los Angeles Clippers, 97-88. On his 24th birthday, Howard tallied 25 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a season-high 7 blocked shots, leading Orlando in all 5 of those categories. He also shot 7-of-10 from the field and 11-of-15 at the foul line. His brilliance took the spotlight away from Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Jason Williams, the other Magic players to score in double-figures. Lewis and Williams hit 4 three-pointers apiece and Orlando drilled 14 as a team. Second-year shooting guard Eric Gordon led L.A. with 21 points on 12 shots, while point guard Baron Davis traded poor shooting (7-of-19, 18 points) for solid playmaking (11 assists, 0 turnovers) which helped keep the Clippers in the game.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 88 109.8 54.9% 26.8 19.4 19.2
Clippers 93 92.0 43.5% 14.1 19.6 13.9
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Tonight's contest followed a pattern that we've seen from this Magic team in recent years: it jumps out to an early lead, the opponent grinds back into contention in the two middle periods, only for the Magic to shut its offense down in the fourth period. The Magic's frequent turnovers, especially in the second quarter, led to easy transition baskets for the Clippers. In a halfcourt setting, though, their offense didn't muster much against Orlando. The Magic assigned small forward Mickael Pietrus to cover Davis, which took away his driving lanes. The crossmatch forced either Williams or Anthony Johnson to cover Gordon, who looked to post up in order to exploit the mismatch. This strategy worked for a bit, but the biggest factor in limiting the Clippers' offense was Howard's defense on Chris Kaman, an unheralded player in his seventh year posting All-Star-caliber numbers here in the early going. Kaman took 22 shots, the most of any Clipper, but Howard limited him to 8 makes, for 16 points. Excellent work by Howard, who was not whistled for a defensive foul at all, in 43 minutes of work.

Kaman did have his moments defensively, ending the Magic's first 3 possessions of the second quarter with a block and consecutive steals, including an impressive deflection of a Matt Barnes alley-oop intended for Howard. This came after Howard scored 12 points in the first period. From the second quarter on the Clippers' defense adjusted, sending quick double-teams at Howard and daring the Magic's outside shooters to beat them. This strategy worked, to a certain extent. Howard didn't make another field goal until the fourth quarter, and the Magic shot 8-of-26 on three-pointers after a blazing, 6-of-8 start in the first quarter. Orlando won this game with its defense, without question.

To be fair, an extraordinary number of the Magic's shots bounced out after going halfway down; the unkind rim victimized J.J. Redick twice in the first half alone.

Credit the Clippers' defense for holding the Magic to 39 points in the second and third quarters after surrendering 34 in the first quarter alone. Orlando's turnovers and L.A.'s own deft passing on the perimeter helped them surmount what had been a 13-point Magic lead midway through the second quarter. With Kaman's post game neutralized, the Clippers had to rely on Gordon, Davis, and Al Thornton to score with a jumper or a drive to the hoop. Howard's help defense down low challenged numerous shots--and he blocked 7 others, remember--so the game would ultimately come down to whether or not the Clippers could get hot from midrange and beyond.

No such luck. DeAndre Jordan gave the Clippers their last lead at 69-68 with a dunk at the 2:55 mark of the third. The Clippers didn't mak another field goal until the 7:24 mark of the fourth, on a Thornton dunk after he rebounded his own miss. Prior to that dunk, Orlando had gone on a 14-2 to wrest momentum away from L.A.

I'm not sure what the big takeaway from tonight's game is; these sorts of wins (not to be confused with "wins" in general) have become sort-of routine. Enjoy Howard's growth, Lewis' sharpshooting, and Williams' efficient play (16 points on 11 shots, 3 assists, no turnovers), and the knowledge that you're watching a Magic team that just improved to 17-4 for the best start in franchise history.