The Orlando Magic rode All-Star center Dwight Howard to their sixth consecutive victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, winning by a final score of 104-86 and impressively increasing their lead in each quarter. Howard, who touched the ball on seemingly every possession, scored 31 points on 10-of-16 from the field and 11-of-18 from the foul line. He also added 19 rebounds and 3 blocks as he dominated his All-Star counterpart, Al Horford, on both ends of the floor. Rashard Lewis scored 17 points and made 3 of Orlando's 7 three-pointers, while Ryan Anderson continued his career-long torture of the Hawks with 16 points in 17 minutes off the bench. Atlanta jumped out to an early 16-6 lead with each of its starters scoring, but the Magic quickly roared back with an 11-0 run to make the game competitive again. From that point forward, the Hawks' offense stagnated and the Magic--aided by Howard's presence in the lane--forced them to take contested jump shots. At the other end, Howard proved to be too much inside for the Hawks to handle, and they were never able to string together enough stops to get themselves back into the game. The win places Orlando back atop the Southeast division by a half-game.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Howard was far from the only Magic player to perform well, and his efforts at both ends potentially overshadow the efficient scoring of Lewis and Anderson, the superb playmaking by J.J. Redick, and the hot perimeter shooting of Jameer Nelson. But he owned this game, from tip to horn. Orlando made a concerted effort to get him the ball in the post on every possession, and he continued to display an array of post moves en route to his second 30-point performance in the last week-and-a-half. The Hawks aided his cause a bit with their regular fouling--backup center Jason Collins, who's defended Howard well throughout his career (hat tip: John Schuhmann)--picked up 3 of his 4 fouls trying to deny him position... in 5 minutes of playing time. Horford and Zaza Pachulia didn't fare any better. He simply would not be denied tonight, despite commendable efforts on Atlanta's part.
On offense, nothing came easily for Atlanta. All-Star Joe Johnson, leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith were reluctant to drive the ball with Howard in the game. Crawford resorted to taking pull-up jumpers off the dribble, while the slightly more aggressive Johnson at least tried to get to the foul-line area to uncork some one-handed floaters. Howard's presence also resulted in the amusing sight of Mo Evans, a corner three-point specialist and former teammate of Howard's with the Magic two seasons ago, trying to create for himself off the dribble, seeing Howard patrolling the lane, losing track of the ball, and nearly turning it over.
So you've got Howard tearing it up both ways, and even twice on one play with a steal and coast-to-coast layup which ignited the Amway Arena crowd and his teammates but seemed to irritate coach Stan Van Gundy. But you've also got Redick facilitating the offense from the two-guard position and finishing with a career-best 7 assists. You've got Lewis and Anderson scoring from inside and out. In a potentially underrated development, you've got Jameer Nelson playing an almost flawless game (14 points on 7 shots, 5 assists, 1 turnover). And then you have Vince Carter shooting 2-of-7 and playing fewer minutes than Redick. I refuse to see Carter's continued errant shooting as a negative, at least not in this specific instance. Yes, as Josh Robbins points out, Carter's 6-point performance tonight is his 9th single-digit scoring game in his last 12 appearances. However, let's at least note that he only took 7 shots in those 22 minutes. Orlando can win with Carter shooting poorly, provided that he at least picks his spots well and defers to his teammates as needed. He did that tonight, and wound up not hurting the Magic as a result.
Now obviously you'd like your
highest-paid second-highest-paid player to do more than merely "not hurt" you with his poor shooting. I get that, and Carter's having a rough year. All I'm saying is that you're much happier with him shooting once every three minutes, as he did tonight, as opposed to once every two minutes, which is (roughly) his season average.
Another benefit of playing Carter less than half the game? In theory, he'll be fresh for tomorrow's contest in Detroit.
Tonight, the Magic clinched a season-series win over the Hawks, which may be crucial come playoff time. If the teams finish with identical records, Orlando will grab the higher seed by virtue of its winning the season series. The Magic's margin in the three games? +67. Tremendous, though they have been fortunate to catch Atlanta on the back end of a back-to-back set in each of the last two meetings. Still, Orlando's proven to have a distinct matchup advantage over Atlanta, which will persist as long as it has a healthy Howard in the middle.