The Orlando Magic blasted the Washington Wizards, 101-76, on Wednesday night to enter the NBA All-Star break on a high note, having won four of their final five games before the week-long respite. Dwight Howard, as expected, dominated the thin and unskilled Wizards' frontcourt rotation, needing just 29 minutes to amass game-highs in points (32) and blocks (3) to go with 10 rebounds. Washington had no answer for him on the interior, and it's a credit to his teammates that he got as many touches he did.
Orlando withstood one of the finest games of point guard John Wall's young career, as the speedy rookie exploited them in transition time and again on his way to 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting. However, Washington didn't give its franchise player enough help on this night; his mates in the starting lineup combined to shoot 10-of-46 from the floor for 27 points against a stingy Orlando defense, which played its second-most efficient game of the season, and its most efficient since the team's dramatic trades on December 18th.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
The Magic's struggle to get back on the break to stop Wall is probably the lone cause for concern after this big victory, and even then, that's something the team improved as the game wore on. Otherwise, a great all-around performance from Orlando, even considering the low caliber of the competition.
The game didn't start great for the hosts, though, who clearly looked as though they had mentally checked out for All-Star Weekend. Two turnovers on inbounds passes, and a 9-point scoring outburst for backup combo guard Kirk Hinrich, lowlighted Orlando's first 18 minutes. A three-point play from Hinrich gave the Wizards a 31-28 lead at the 6:13 mark of the second period, but Orlando responded by scoring 10 straight points and never trailed again. It took a 5-point advantage into halftime, a lead it pushed to 21 after only three more minutes, shutting the door on the Wizards, who simply couldn't get a basket from anyone apart from Wall. You'd rather the Magic show up and dominate from tip to horn, but they corrected their mistakes reasonably early and coasted after halftime. On a night when the two-time defending champion L.A. Lakers lost to the NBA-worst Cleveland Cavaliers, you like to see that.
The victory also gives some struggling Magic players a bit of momentum. Jameer Nelson, for instance, shot 4-of-9 from the floor, with two three-pointers, in 23 minutes. Jason Richardson scored 16 points in 29 minutes, making half his shots for the first time since February 4th, also against Washington. And Gilbert Arenas, the former Wizard, played a more subdued style. He limited himself to 6 shot attempts (and one make, we hasten to add) in 25 minutes, and he had a game-high 6 assists. Arenas played a more patient, controlled style, looking to set his teammates up instead of for his own offense. Though coach Stan Van Gundy will want him to trim his turnovers--had had 3 more again tonight--an Arenas who shoots less often is an Arenas who better suits Orlando.
Brandon Bass, in his first start in over a week, showed some signs of rust, but played with great energy and finished with a game-high 11 rebounds. His jumper looked a bit flat and he had some of his shots blocked, which explains his 6-of-13 shooting figure, but you can't fault his effort. Rebounding has never been, and probably never will be, his strongest suit, so for him to top Howard in that area says a lot.
Indeed, just about everything went as planned for Orlando tonight, though no one could have foreseen the Amway Center crowd chanting Earl Clark's name late in the fourth quarter.
Orlando's record at the break stands at 36-21, as opposed to 36-18 last season, so it's a bit of a down year for the Magic so far. But again, the unofficial first half ended on a high note, which offers hope for a strong run to close the season.