AP Photo/John Raoux
After 21 years, it’s ironic — props to Matt Guokas and David Steele for pointing this out in their television broadcast — that the Orlando Magic played the Philadelphia 76ers in the final regular season home game at Amway Arena. Why? Because the “godfather” of the Magic, Pat Williams, had ties with the 76ers way back when as their former general manager. And Guokas, Orlando’s first head coach in 1989, also had Philadelphia connections as a player and a coach. So, it’s fitting on a night where fans reminisced on the good times at the O-Rena that the Magic defeated the Sixers by the score of 125-111 to officially clinch the overall No. 2 seed and secure themselves home-court advantage against any team they would potentially face in the NBA Finals from the Western Conference, if they got that far. Orlando’s starting backcourt was outstanding, as Vince Carter had 17 points and six assists while Jameer Nelson had 21 points and four assists. Dwight Howard chipped in with 15 points and 12 rebounds but more importantly, secured his name in the record books by becoming the first player in NBA history to lead the league in blocks and rebounds for a second consecutive year. Plus, Orlando broke the record set by the 2005-2006 “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns for the most threes made (841) in a season. Two impressive accomplishments, without a doubt.
With the win, the Magic finish the regular season with an identical 59-23 record as last year.
As was the case against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night, Orlando took care of business and put the game away in the first quarter. Philadelphia, seemingly, had no chance after tipoff. The Magic went 13-of-16 from the field (including five three-pointers), scored 37 points, and played some excellent basketball. Especially on offense, where Carter and Nelson stole the show and torched the Sixers’ backcourt in the period. Carter got going very quickly in the 2/5 pick and roll with Howard, hitting some shots from the perimeter and on one possession in particular, making a ridiculously difficult one-handed layup fading away from the basket. Degree of difficulty? 12. As for Nelson, he was extremely effective in the 1/5 pick and roll with Howard, connecting on a few mid-range jumpers. When Nelson is hitting his shots with consistency, it really makes him a different player and takes Orlando to another level offensively.
Honestly, there isn’t much else to say about this game. The script played out similarly to the Magic’s win against the Pacers a few days ago. Philadelphia, like Indiana, played relatively well in the second quarter and was able to cut the deficit to 10 in the early stages of the third quarter before Orlando decided enough was enough. In the second half, the Magic increased the lead to as much as 26 before coasting to the finish line and ultimately winning by 14.
Could have Orlando been better defensively? Yeah, but the Magic’s defense has proven itself time and again so there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern even though the Sixers seemed to score at will in the fourth quarter.
So, with the regular season officially over for Orlando, that means only one thing.
It’s playoff time.