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Orlando Magic 100, Charlotte Bobcats 79

Dwight Howard dominated the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night, ending the Orlando Magic's 2011 calendar year on a high note in his team's 100-79 win. Though he struggled from a scoring, needing 16 shots and 14 free throw attempts for his 20 points, Howard's fingerprints were all over this game, Orlando's third consecutive win and second in as many nights. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year grabbed 24 boards (six offensive) for the second straight game. He added four assists, a steal, and four blocks to his total as well. And the numbers simply cannot account for the open looks his very presence created for his teammates; just ask Ryan Anderson, who led all scorers with 23 points--including five three-pointers--largely as a result of the extra attention Charlotte needed to pay Howard.

Howard's drawn double-teams, or at least extra attention, from help defenders for the last several seasons. That's not new. But the way in which he attacks them early in the 2011/12 campaign is different. He's more patient and surehanded, for one thing, and he's made demonstrable progress when it comes to reading opposing defenses and making the right pass. His four assists ranked him second on the team Friday, and if the NBA counted hockey assists, he might well have paced the Magic.

Former Magic player Corey Maggette led the Bobcats with 20 points, but he and maybe D.J. Augustin were the only Bobcats to distinguish themselves at either end of the floor, though Byron Mullens' 12-point effort in 15 minutes off Charlotte's bench is bound to turn heads.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Bobcats 88.5 89.3 39.2% 16.9 25.5 13.6
Magic 88.5 113.0 51.2% 16.7 32.6 13.6
Green denotes a stat better than the team's 2010/11 average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's 2010/11 average.

Howard and Anderson weren't the only bright spots. Hedo Turkoglu scored a quiet, efficient 15 points in 30 minutes, while Jason Richardson continued his recent trend of getting involved in the offense early, scoring 13 of his 16 points in the first half.

One could best describe Augustin as slippery. He's small, quick, and has a lethal crossover dribble that enables him to scramble defenses on his drives to the rim, setting up a shot for himself or a kickout to a teammate. He succeeded with this approach for a bit, but Howard's presence prevented Augustin from doing much damage anywhere near the basket. And Maggette got nine of his 20 from three-point range; though known for putting his head down and driving into defenders to draw fouls, Maggette spent much of Friday night running off screens and firing away from midrange and beyond.

In short, Howard disrupted nearly everything Charlotte did on both ends of the floor. And he did this playing 40 minutes, including the entire second half, on the back end of a back-to-back set. 48 rebounds in his last 78 minutes on the court. I don't even know how to process that.

When the entire team makes a commitment to moving the ball and playing unselfishly, Orlando can succeed even without starting point guard Jameer Nelson, as it did Friday. Nelson sat out with a neck stinger suffered on Thursday, leaving Chris Duhon to start in his place. Duhon played an unspectacular 32 minutes--two points on 1-of-1 shooting, two rebounds, six assists, three turnovers--but Orlando didn't ask him to do a helluva lot. He and backup Larry Hughes sometimes struggled with the backcourt pressure the Bobcats applied, coming close to eight-second violations on several occasions. And Hughes' handle is far from sharp, though his line-drive of a jumper is in midseason form.

Apart from Redick, the Magic's bench is a mess, but they managed to get the win regardless. Since losing on opening night to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Magic haven't faced a playoff-caliber team, so it's hard to know exactly what to make of them yet. Regardless of the opponent, the improvements Howard and Redick have made, coupled with Turkoglu's resurgence, give reason for cautious optimism moving forward.

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