Behind a punishing inside presence, the Orlando Magic coasted past the Cleveland Cavaliers, 97-86, at Quicken Loans Arena tonight. Dwight Howard (28 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 4 blocks) overwhelmed the Cavs at both ends of the court, while Brandon Bass, his partner at power forward, shot 9-of-10 for 22 points of his own. Eight of the pair's 10 first-half field goals were dunks, which illustrated the ease with which the Magic managed to deliver the ball to their bruisers in scoring position. After 24 minutes, the Magic held a 56-38 edge.
But the Magic let up considerably after halftime, particularly in the fourth period, when they let the lead slip to 10 points on more than one occasion. In what's become a familiar story for them, they backed off defensively and became absurdly turnover-prone, at one point committing five straight turnovers against the league's very worst team. Daniel Gibson, arguably the Cavaliers' best healthy player--depending on how highly you regard Ramon Sessions, whom I happen to prefer--led the way with 12 points and assists leading to an additional 12. Indeed, Gibson out-produced the Magic in points, 24-17, in the fourth as his team made an impressive comeback effort.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
I believe the above Four Factors chart is among the most revealing this season. Orlando limited the Cavs' offense, the second-worst overall in the league in terms of points per possession, to below its season averages in each major category... yet the Cavaliers topped the Magic in free-throw rate and turnover rate anyway. As Cleveland rates as the league's worst defensive team overall, that's quite revealing of just how inept Orlando was for long stretches tonight.
To be fair to the Magic, though, they would have topped the Cavs in free-throw rate with just two more made foul shots. On a night when Brandon Bass, a career 83 percent foul shooter, shot 4-of-8 at the line in the worst high-volume outing of his career, that much bears noting.
But there's just no way to explain the turnovers anymore. Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Gilbert Arenas had four apiece against a Cavs defense which ranks in the bottom third of the league in turnover creation of the season. Tonight's was the fourth straight game in which the Magic had at least 18 turnovers, just two shy of the franchise record. With a turnover-prone top player in Howard, the Magic aren't going to be a great team in terms of ball-control anyway. I get that. But the team-wide carelessness? You'll have to ask someone else about that; Twitter follower @drewbarotini offered this explanation, which seems reasonable to me.
But let's not get carried away with the negative here, as Orlando still played a solid game overall. Plenty of teams would gladly take 11-point road wins, even against Cleveland. For instance, Hedo Turkoglu dished 9 assists to just 1 turnover and buried two key baskets in the fourth quarter to keep the Cavaliers at bay; he also blocked a fourth-quarter jumper attempt by Christian Eyenga at the 2:36 mark, a solid defensive play. Bass, despite his free-throw woes, had his second-best offensive outing of the season. Howard was the first player since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1990 to tally a line of at leat 28/18/4/4/4, though Olajuwon's (29/18/10/5/11) was significantly more incredible.
The Magic could have done a lot better than they wound up doing tonight against the Cavs. They also could have done worse. Clearly, you'd prefer to see them maintain their intensity over a full 48 minutes instead of, as coach Stan Van Gundy likes to say, "playing the scoreboard." Some of the letup is human nature, sure. But they won anyway. Better to have these sorts of games now than in the postseason. The real problem will be if they can't correct this nasty habit of theirs over the season's final 11 games.