The Orlando Magic used a game-long barrage of Dwight Howard dunks and some late three-pointers to snap their two-game losing streak Friday night, knocking off the Washington Wizards, 110-92, in Gilbert Arenas' return to Washington. Howard led all players with 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting, with 7 dunks, while also adding 15 rebounds. Jameer Nelson orchestrated a brilliant Magic offense, tallying 11 assists and just 1 turnovers and benefitting from Wizards rookie John Wall's iffy, gimpy defense. The Wizards kept the game competitive for the first 31 minutes or so, but the Magic pulled away in the late stages of the third and throughout the fourth quarter when they started making their three-point baskets. The Magic shot 2-of-14 from long range in the first half, but connected on 10 of their 17 three-point offerings in the second half to pull away.
Like a lot of the league's lesser teams, Washington had no answer for Howard inside, and he tore it up with cuts to the rim for lob dunks or by straight backing its defenders down. The Wizards lack anyone who can adequately defend the Magic's franchise center, and their double-team help didn't do too much to bother him, either. It was a patient, dominant performance for Howard.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
His mate on the front line, Ryan Anderson, also enjoyed some success against Washington's defense. The third-year power forward, starting in place of the injured Brandon Bass, scored 10 of his 19 points in the first quarter and didn't really look back. Though he made three three-pointers to extent his NBA-leading streak of consecutive games with a trey to 23, he also shot 4-of-7 on two-pointers, with some good finishes at the rim area. Reserve shooting guard J.J. Redick almost put the game away by himself in the fourth period, scoring 11 points in the final frame to withstand a late charge Washington veteran Kirk Hinrich led.
The Magic are probably 18 points better than Washington in Verizon Center, even on the second night of a back-to-back, so the result and the manner in which it was achieved is hardly surprising. If nothing else, this game again demonstrated what sort of shape the Magic can be in (it's bad) with Howard on the bench and Bass sidelined. Earl Clark and Malik Allen combine for a power-position duo that doesn't rebound or defend up to par, though it's not for lack of effort. Despite Clark's 7 rebounds in 18 minutes tonight, he's below-average on the boards relative to his size (6-foot-10, 225 pounds) throughout his career. Allen plays hard and knows where to be, and he showed great toughness tonight by playing on a sprained MCL in his left knee. But his lack of quickness and athleticism leaves him vulnerable on the interior, which is how Yi Jianlian drilled three jumpers tonight. Allen also lost track of energetic rookie Trevor Booker, who's built like a freaking washing machine, on one of his dives to the rim, leading to a highlight-reel dunk. Allen and Clark can hold the fort down in the short term, but it's pretty clear the Magic need to upgrade their big-man rotation before the playoffs in order to boost their chances at a title. That's not a dig on the work Allen and Clark put in tonight, though; they did pretty okay and gave a great effort. But they need to produce more, frankly.
Otherwise, the Magic defended pretty well and made a solid effort to get to loose balls, of which there were plenty on a night when the Wizards struggled to complete passes. Orlando picked up 10 steals on the night, accounting for all but 4 of Washington's turnovers. What's less clear is what role the Magic played in limiting Washington to 92 points in a 94-possession game. The Wizards aren't a great offensive club to begin with, and when they're rolling, it's because Nick Young is drilling long two-pointers from all over the place. Tonight, the scoring machine converted inefficiently, going 7-of-20 from the floor for 17 points and picking up just 2 assists.
I will applaud Gilbert Arenas and Nelson for their work on Young and Wall, though. Wall shot just 5-of-12 and made a few jumpers, but the Magic's point guards kept the speed demon from getting into the lane to create looks for his teammates or to convert in traffic. Wall's a great passer--as a rookie, he averages 9.3 assists per game--but his playmaking didn't really factor into the proceedings tonight.
Arenas wasn't a slouch offensively either, although it's telling that we talk about a player shooting 4-of-12 from the floor as "progress." He clearly had some pep in his step in his return to the Verizon Center floor, wearing his old Gil II Zero sneakers and even doing his old around-the-back handoff routine at the foul line. Arenas attacked more often than he didn't, defended with intensity and focus, and made a positive impact overall. Again, just 4-of-12 shooting from the floor and 0-of-4 on threes, but Arenas put up a great line for a backup point guard in the win: 10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, a blocked shot, and, on the negative side, 3 turnovers.
Orlando can rest a bit tomorrow before taking on the Boston Celtics this Sunday, just prior to what I understand is a big football game. You can enjoy half-priced Papa John's Pizza on the off-day, though, using the code MAGICWIN on your online order. Details here.