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Orlando Magic 90, Indiana Pacers 86

Dwight Howard scored 14 of his game-high 25 points and blocked 2 shots in the fourth quarter, and Jameer Nelson's three-point play with 33 seconds remaining lifted the Orlando Magic to a 90-86 win over a spirited Indiana Pacers team Saturday night. The Magic overcame an uncharacteristically poor showing on the glass--the Pacers held a 51-42 edge--and a four-minute scoreless stretch in the fourth period to pull out the win, yet some positives abound for 9-3 Orlando. For one, forward Rashard Lewis busted out of his early-season slump in a big way, shooting 8-of-11 from the field and 5-of-7 from three-point range for 21 points. For another, the Magic stepped up their defensive intensity in the second half, limiting the Pacers to 34 points over the final 24 minutes after a miserable first half in which center Roy Hibbert ran roughshod over them. And the Magic never let former All-Star Danny Granger get going. The prolific scorer managed just 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting, prompting coach Stan Van Gundy to praise the individual defensive efforts of Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus.

Indiana rolled in the first half, holding a three-point lead at intermission, due largely to Hibbert's efforts on the interior. But, as Van Gundy explained, the Pacers didn't run many plays for Hibbert in the second half due to his foul trouble--he picked up three in the third period--and the fact that they were trailing. Lewis went on a tear in the period to give Orlando the lead, scoring 13 points in the first 6:25, and the Pacers' offense ground to a halt as they switched to a jump-shooting, pick-and-roll-oriented group.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 89 101.5 51.4% 27.5 12.5 18.1
Pacers 91 94.9 42.1% 12.4 30.2 14.4
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Credit both teams for playing hard. The Magic had a tough stretch last week where they underestimated some of their opponents, but even on the road against a team that's played mediocre ball over the last several seasons tonight, they took the game seriously. Sure, rebounding and turnovers were a problem, but I don't see them as indictments of the Magic's approach or attitude. A game that looks sloppy on paper--see all the red in the Four Factors chart?--proved pretty fun to watch as a result, with neither team ever holding a double-digit lead. The crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse, though sparse in number, made itself heard, which is unusual. And this Pacers team really gave it reason to cheer. Hibbert humbled Howard in the first half, role-players like James Posey (game-changing defense and, in the final minute, a go-ahead triple) and Brandon Rush (an efficient 14 points off the bench) chipped in... Indiana looked like a playoff team.

The Pacers planned to foul Howard mercilessly in the second half, and particularly in the final period. That's not a surprise, given coach Jim O'Brien's track record of having his guys hammer Howard inside. Howard didn't exactly punish Indiana at the foul line, going 11-of-19, but he also converted some tough field goals in heavy traffic when the officials let a lot of contact go uncalled. He carried Orlando on both ends in the final frame. The 14 points in the fourth were huge, sure, especially with Posey making the Magic think twice before passing the ball around the perimeter. I don't think, though, we can overlook his shot-blocking on consecutive late Indy possessions. He erased T.J. Ford in transition, following a missed trey by Nelson, with 2:09 to play. On the next possession, he got just high enough to tip Rush's floating jumper off the glass and into Vince Carter's awaiting arms.

Carter had a rough night at the offensive end, missing 9 of his 12 shot attempts, but he did manage to pull down 9 rebounds and sink the game-clinching free throws.

The Magic aim for their fifth straight win Monday night in San Antonio. The Spurs will offer a stiffer test than the resurgent Pacers, but the Magic have at least picked their defense up enough that they should stand a decent chance of getting a win.