Five Orlando Magic players scored in double-figures Sunday evening as the Magic toppled the Charlotte Bobcats, 100-86, for their sixth win in their last eight games. Dwight Howard scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his tenth straight 20/10 effort, the longest of his career, but his teammates provided ample help, as Brandon Bass pitched in 17 points and Gilbert Arenas scored 16 (with four three-pointers) off the bench. Orlando withstood a fine offensive outing from the Bobcats' Stephen Jackson, who shot 13-of-22 from the field for 35 points, in the win.
The Magic controlled the game from its onset and never trailed. While it never firmly closed the door on the Bobcats, Orlando nonetheless outscored its divisional rivals in every period, a strong showing for a team coach Stan Van Gundy thought might let up after an impressive win against the Oklahoma City Thunder two nights ago.
Orlando's offense hummed to the tune of 1.13 points per possession, with 26 assists on its 35 baskets, a great ratio. Of the nine Magic players to take the court, only two failed to shoot better than 50 percent. Charlotte's defense isn't great, but nonetheless ranks above the league average, so for the Magic to score against it with ease is no mean feat. Howard didn't need to dominate tonight either, with the ball moving so crisply and his teammates making their shots within the flow of the offense.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
I'm not too hung up on Jackson's 35-point showing, really, although it does call attention to Orlando's lack of a so-called "lock down" defender on the perimeter. Jackson could just as easily have shot 8-of-22 given the same looks he had tonight once again, and with Gerald Wallace out of Charlotte's plans, he's going to need to assume a bigger offensive role. D.J. Augustin and Boris Diaw were the only other Bobcats to crack double-digit scoring, and Augustin scored 9 of his 11 in the first quarter. Even when the Bobcats did move the ball well--which is to say, even when Jackson wasn't mercilessly pounding the ball into the floor--the Magic nonetheless rotated well to take away the resulting shot attempts.
Jameer Nelson and Arenas, the Magic's point guards, played well tonight. Nelson shot 6-of-11 from the floor for 13 points, and would have had 17 were it not for two gimme layups that just rolled out on him. He also had 7 assists, many of them through the smallest of seams in the defense, in one of his better passing displays on the season.
Arenas, meanwhile, ended his ghastly (2-of-31) February three-point shooting slump by going 4-of-6 from beyond the arc in this one. I've noticed he looks better physically of late, with a bit more burst on his drives to the rim. Just three weeks ago, he literally limped through a Magic loss to the Boston Celtics. While he's still not the speedster he once was, he nonetheless has regained some of that open-court quickness. With that said, he needs to use it more: opposing teams will be all too happy to let Arenas take one two-pointer for every six threes. But Orlando will want to see more point-a-minute performances from its highly paid backup point guard.
The Magic ought to be proud of their performance tonight, but this sort of work needs to become routine for them. There should be little doubt that they're capable of such tip-to-horn ownership of a game on a nightly basis. I tend to agree with Van Gundy, who often refers to focus and intensity as major tests for his team. When Orlando is engaged, as it was tonight, on both ends of the floor, there are few teams who can trade blows with it.