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Orlando Magic 113, Los Angeles Clippers 87

Coming off one of its biggest wins of the season against the Los Angeles Lakers, if there was a storyline to look at before last night’s game, it was this … how would the Orlando Magic perform versus the Los Angeles Clippers? There is an inclination, at times, for teams in the NBA to have a letdown after a victory against a marquee opponent. But head coach Stan Van Gundy made an excellent point before the game when asked if the Magic were in for a trap against the Clippers. Van Gundy’s answer, more or less, was no because Orlando has shown the ability to win games this season in convincing fashion after coming off huge victories versus teams like the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and others.

Yesterday was no different, as the Magic out-classed the Clippers by the score of 113-87. Orlando had a 10 point lead in the first quarter against Los Angeles and never looked back. Balance was the name of the game for the Magic, as six players scored in double-figures. Dwight Howard led the way for Orlando with 22 points (9-12 FG, 4-4 FT), 15 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Oh, and Howard had one dazzling assist on a fast break that sent the sell-out crowd at the Amway Arena into a frenzy. Jameer Nelson, who has been playing at a different level since the All-Star break, continued his sterling play with 17 points (6-13 FG, 3-6 3PT), 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 0 turnovers. The Clippers were led by Baron Davis, who had 16 points (7-15 FG, 2-4 3PT), 9 assists, and 4 rebounds. And general manager Mike Dunleavy Sr. was fired, to boot.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Clippers 91 95.6 47.7% 5.8 20.5 14.3
Magic 91 123.5 54.9% 13.0 23.3 8.7
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Honestly, this game could be summed up in one sentence.

The better team won.

Orlando came away with the victory, partly because it has better players than Los Angeles, but more so because the team executed nearly flawlessly the entire game. Especially on offense. Whenever the Magic ran 4-out/1-in offensive sets for Howard, the Clippers elected to double-team him in the post, and usually he either passed the basketball to the open man or scored. Whenever the Magic dribble penetrated, the Clippers’ interior defense was forced to collapse, and that opened things up around the perimeter for spot-up shooters like J.J. Redick to knock down some jumpshots. Whenever the Magic executed pick and rolls, sometimes the Clippers would do a horrendous job of defending it and its players would be scrambling for position, only to be too late – more often than not – in their rotations, switches, etc. For example, in the second quarter, Vince Carter ran a 2/4 pick and roll and Brandon Bass made the mid-range jumper. On the very next possession for Orlando, Carter made a three-pointer with no one near him after he ran another 2/4 pick and roll with Bass and his defender, Steve Novak, inexplicably left him alone. It was one of those nights for Los Angeles.

In contrast, the Magic’s team defense was excellent.

Howard, in particular, should be praised for not committing a single foul but the Clippers should be ashamed they let such a thing happen. Howard accomplished the same feat against the Golden State Warriors last week but that’s a team that doesn’t have a low-post presence like Chris Kaman. Los Angeles does, yet he was a minimal threat to Orlando. Instead, the Clippers didn’t attack the basket a lot, settled for jumpers, and the results weren’t good aside from the three-point shooting. Before the game, Van Gundy told me that Orlando needed to do several things on the defensive side of the ball to beat Los Angeles: defend the post-ups, defend the pick and rolls, keep the basketball out of the paint, and limit the three-point shot.

Check, check, check, and … well, three out of four isn’t bad, even though Van Gundy noted that limiting threes has been the Magic's one weakness on defense this year.

Still, Orlando is hitting its stride and doing so at an opportune time. The playoffs would be the perfect time to see this type of basketball from the team but nevertheless, the players on the Magic are gaining confidence as the sense of urgency grows and the postseason looms closer.

Kudos to Bass, by the way, who arguably played one of his best games in an Orlando uniform and is looking better on defense. Bass still has some kinks he needs to work on and he’s still adjusting to playing defense the majority of the time at power forward instead of at center, but he’s looking better on that end of the floor.