After a competitive half of basketball, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the New Jersey Nets by the score of 105-90. The Magic trailed by three points at halftime but were able to take control of the game in the third quarter, leading by as much as 20 points before coasting to a victory. Orlando was led by three of their four All-Stars — Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Vince Carter. Howard was dominant, finishing with 30 points, 16 rebounds, two steals, and one block. Nelson had 20 points and six assists, while Carter had 19 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Rashard Lewis chipped in with 12 points, though it came at the price of inefficiency (5-of-15 shooting from the field).
This was an interesting game.
Lewis and Ryan Anderson started at the forward positions for the Magic, but that alignment didn’t last long. At the 5-minute mark of the first quarter, head coach Stan Van Gundy replaced Anderson with Quentin Richardson and eventually Mickael Pietrus to play not only the 4-out/1-in offensive scheme that everyone is accustomed to seeing but also to matchup better with Travis Outlaw, who torched Orlando. It seems a little absurd that the Magic needed to tweak their defensive assignments for a player of Outlaw’s caliber, but he was playing extremely well on offense and the necessary changes needed to be made. Still, Outlaw finished with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting so it’s not like he was contained.
There were a few reasons why Orlando was able to come away with a win.
Howard was phenomenal on both ends of the floor. Brook Lopez is an All-Star caliber center and Howard made him look like he was nothing. Throughout the game, Howard was able to mix in righty and lefty hooks in 4-out/1-in offensive sets to generate most of his points. Howard did have some highlight-reel dunks for good measure, but this was a methodical performance offensively for him.
As for Howard’s defense, it was clear that he won the mental battle against Lopez. Every time Lopez would put up a shot attempt against Howard, he was met with harsh resistance. Instead of going up strong to the basket, Lopez would try to avoid Howard for fear of having his shot blocked. It only happened once, but the fact that Lopez would cognizant of Howard’s defensive prowess was interesting to see.
Credit should be also given to the Magic’s perimeter defenders for doing an excellent job of offering weak-side help alongside Howard to make life difficult for Lopez on offense. Howard deserves kudos for bottling up Lopez, a prolific scorer in the NBA, but he also got some help from his teammates. Lopez finished with 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting. That’s a heck of an effort defensively from Orlando.
Another player that made a big impact was Nelson.
Things started out slow for Nelson in the first half, but he played lights-out in the third quarter to help the Magic pull away from the Nets. Nelson killed New Jersey with dribble penetration, whether it was in the 1/5 pick and roll or simply by probing in the lane like Steve Nash. Nelson was aggressive on offense and made mince meat of Devin Harris and Jordan Farmar, two players that tried to keep him in front of them but with little success. This isn’t to say that Nelson was perfect, particularly on defense — he did have his moments — because he wasn’t, but he got the better of the point guard contingent for the Nets.
Carter deserves a brief mention, more so because he had another efficient outing offensively. 19 points on 11 shots? Very good. The main thing that sticks out with Carter is that he’s doing a great job of staying balanced on his jumpshot, which has allowed him to shoot in rhythm consistently and with good results. And Carter is attacking the basket enough to keep opposing defenses honest.
Oh, and Brandon Bass seems hellbent on ripping off the rim one of these days.
This was a solid victory for Orlando. Not perfect, but good enough.