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Orlando Magic 101, Dallas Mavericks 76

The Orlando Magic continued their roll through the preseason tonight with yet another blowout victory as they topped the overmatched Dallas Mavericks, who were resting some of their key players, 101-76. Center Dwight Howard had arguably his finest preseason performance, tallying 20 points on a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor to go with 13 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and four blocks in just 29 minutes. Vince Carter connected easily on all 4 o his three-point attempts, and also finished with 20 points on only 10 shots. And though Jameer Nelson couldn't find the range--he missed 7 of his 8 field-goal attempts--he contributed in other areas, with 5 boards and a preseason-best 10 assists, putting on a drive-and-kick clinic against Dallas' porous perimeter defense. Dallas rested All-Star point guard Jason Kidd and do-it-all combo forward Shawn Marion, while only giving franchise cornerstone Dirk Nowitzki 24 minutes. It was a night o experimentation for the Mavs, who gave extended minutes to the likes of Brian Cardinal and Steve Novak.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Mavericks 94 80.8 38.7% 24.0 16.7 20.2
Magic 92 109.2 53.2% 24.7 20.5 16.2
Green denotes a stat better than the team's 2009/10 average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's 2009/10 average.

The Magic won again by 25, which happened to be their average victory margin ccoming into tonight's game. The difference is that the game itself wasn't nearly as smooth as the final score might make it out to be.

Nelson really set the tone in this one, however, assisting on each of Orlando's first 6 baskets, and in a variety of ways. When opposing defense allow him to probe the paint area and the baseline, they're in trouble. And when Vince Carter is squared to shoot off the catch, and doesn't fade or drift unnecessarily? Orlando's a lights-out offensive group. Counting tonight's performance, Carter's shooting 37-of-61 from the floor, with nearly half of those looks coming from three-point range. He's never played with this level of confidence in a Magic uniform, at least not over the span of several games. He's fortunate in that Dallas didn't have anyone who could contain him inside, either, as he was able to back his way into the basket with relative ease.

Despite the 25-point margin, things got hairy for Orlando in the first half when the Mavericks' second unit badly outplayed its own. Dallas went on a 20-4 scoring run to open the period over its first 7 minutes, and only Howard and Nelson returning managed to reverse the Magic's fortunes headed to halftime. Howard, in particular, was instrumental in that regard. He scored 6 points in the final 2:34 of the period and single-handedly stopped Dallas from getting an go-ahead three-point look on their final possession. He stymied its initial pick-and-roll action between J.J. Barea and Brian Cardinal, and by the time Barea found three-point specialist Steve Novak in the right corner, Howard had recovered, just getting his fingertips on Novak's offering at the horn. It was an impressive display for the co-captain, especially given the admittedly trivial result of the game.

Indeed, the Magic's offense wasn't always beautiful, though they did record 28 assists on their 36 baskets, but they made enough effort plays, on both ends, to cruise in the second half. Quentin Richardson, for example, single-handedly bottled up rookie guard Dominique Jones--who looks like a keeper, really--on a fast break, and ended the possession by taking the charge. Reserve point guard Chris Duhon dove into heavy traffic for an offensive rebound in the fourth quarter, with his team up 20 points. It's those sorts of plays that stand out.

The Magic seemed to have trouble when the Mavericks switched to a zone defense look. The ball movement which so befuddled Dallas in the first quarter ceased in the second. On one possession memorable for all the wrong reasons, Mickael Pietrus, Nelson, and J.J. Redick took turns passing to each other along the perimeter while Marcin Gortat tried to establish inside position. With the shot-clock winding down, Nelson airmailed a pass out-of-bounds along the baseline, his target unclear. The ball never got below the free-throw line extended, on either side of the court. Orlando must work harder to break zone defenses, as they figure to see a fair amount of them this season, just to throw them off their rhythm. I liked that call by Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, whom I believe is too often overlooked in discussions about the NBA's better coaches.

The chart above shows the Magic came up short to the offensive standards they set last season with regard to per-possession scoring and shooting, but really, they did OK. Pietrus, returning after a two-game absence due to a right thumb injury, still can't put the ball in the basket; he missed all 6 of his shots tonight, all of them from three-point range. Take his misses out and Orlando shot a blistering 10-of-22 from distance.

For the first time all preseason, neither of the Magic's young power forwards impressed. Ryan Anderson shot 1-of-5 from the floor for 6 points, while Brandon Bass shot 4-of-8 with 4 turnovers for 8 points. I do like what I'm seeing out of some of the sets with Bass, though. A question-mark with him last year is where he fits best on offense. Turns out the "horns" set--in which the two bigs on the court set screens near the top of the key, with the point guard choosing which direction to go based on the defense--has some promise, with Bass setting a high screen, and then popping to a mid-range jumper zone or diving to the cup. It worked to perfection in the second quarter, when Bass lingered at the top as if to shoot, and then dove to the basket from the high left elbow to the low right block. Carter, driving to his right, delivered a pinpoint pass for Bass to lay in. The other option, with Howard coming from the right elbow to seal off his man on the left block, could have been exploited with a quick ball reversal, but Bass' ability to fill the empty space rendered it unnecessary.

Gortat had a night to forget as well. He managed just 1 rebound in 15 minutes, as a 6-11 center. He also committed 3 turnovers, though a few of them came on dubious traveling calls as he tried to operate in the low post.

The Magic will wrap up their season this Friday against the Miami Heat, in the neutral (on paper, anyway) St. Pete Times Forum.