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Orlando Magic 99, Milwaukee Bucks 82

Orlando Pinstriped Post Photo / Bruce Maddox
Orlando Pinstriped Post Photo / Bruce Maddox

Vince Carter played his finest all-around game since joining the Orlando Magic, Dwight Howard controlled the lane on both ends of the floor, and Orlando made the most of its transition opportunities en route to blowing out the Milwaukee Bucks by a 99-82 final. Carter scored 17 points on 52.1% True Shooting--not great, but significantly better than the 38.7% mark he posted in January--grabbed 10 rebounds, and handed out 7 assists, providing hope that his shooting struggles are behind him. Besides Carter and Howard, four other Magic players scored in double-figures in what was a balanced attack against a top-10 defensive team, albeit one on the second night of a back-to-back. Guards Charlie Bell and Luke Ridnour combined for 26 of Milwaukee's points, but center Andrew Bogut scored just 10, and he failed to score after the 7:42 mark of the decisive second quarter. Orlando limited Milwaukee, which got off to a scorching start, to just 10 points in the period while scoring 27 itself, giving it a 14-point lead that the Bucks never seriously challenged. The Magic have now won 7 of their last 8 games.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Bucks 91 90.5 40.1% 9.9 24.6 9.9
Magic 90 109.8 52.8% 33.8 16.7 15.5
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

I mentioned that Carter's True Shooting figure isn't great, which is true... but it's encouraging in context. He only bested that mark in an individual game twice last month, in back-to-back wins over Sacramento and Charlotte. Prior to those contests, the most recent game in which he posted a better True Shooting mark than he did tonight was on December 30th, also against Milwaukee. What I'm getting at is Carter really looked sharp, sharper than he has in a while. He set the tone when he scored Orlando's first points, cutting to the basket after making an entry pass to Howard, which Howard promptly returned for the easy lay-up. Overall, he shot 4-of-5 at the rim and made two of his 3 three-pointers. His in-between game needed work, as he connected on just 1 of his 7 shots between the rim and the arc, but overall? Solid.

What was more impressive, to me, was his passing. Two incredible assists stick out to me. On the first, he streaked to the right wing in transition and threw a bounce pass, on the move, to a spot just a few feet to his right. A trailing J.J. Redick stepped into the pass and uncorked a three-pointer, one of his team-leading three treys tonight. A bit later, Carter ran a high screen-and-roll with Marcin Gortat, driving to his right around Gortat's screen. Gortat's man came to trap, but Carter saw an opportunity and took advantage, throwing a lob to Gortat from his hip, on the move, for a layup in traffic. There are few players in the league who can make that pass. Carter's one of them, and he's always had that ability in 'im. He showed it tonight.

Howard might've been even better than Carter. Shutting Bogut down after his hot start is one thing, but his help defense was useful, and he even managed to block a 19-foot jumper of Kurt Thomas', at which even Thomas had to smile. Howard's no longer coasting on the defensive end, as he did at times during the earlier part of the season. Offensively, he fared well against Bogut and Thomas, two above-average defenders. On one sequence, he used the same manuever on Bogut thrice in a row, posting up on the left block, taking a few hard dribbles toward the lane with his right hand, then spinning toward the baseline and lofting in a hook with his left. The hard work he's putting in during practices and shootarounds is paying off; those hooks, as Magic color man Matt Guokas pointed out, came from a difficult angle along the baseline. There's no glass on which to rely, and as such there's very little margin for error.

I should mention that despite the fairly balanced offense, the Magic just barely beat their season average in offensive efficiency and effective field goal shooting. Rashard Lewis and Carter were a bit too fond of the pull-up two-pointer tonight, which hurt Orlando's percentage from the field. But Milwaukee's airly surprising inability to rotate to Orlando's three-point shooters, and its foul-happy defensive approach, bailed the Magic out.

Speaking of bailing the Magic out, how about Matt Barnes tonight? He cherrypicked his way to at least two layups and a few more trips to the foul line, and scored 11 points on a mere 5 shots as a result. And Jason Williams, in his 18th spot-start for Jameer Nelson at point guard, with 11 points, a season-high-tying 5 rebounds, and 5 assists without a turnover.

Come to think of it, Bucks forward Carlos Delfino helped the Magic out a bit as well. He took a team-high 13 shots, but missed 11 of them. Thomas, Luke Ridnour, and Hakim Warrick--all reserves--were the only Bucks to shoot well, so it's debatable whether or not passing up some of those shots would have mattered much overall. Still, the low-efficiency wing took more shots than the high-efficiency (on most nights) center, which hurt the offense. Sounds like a problem to which Orlando can relate.