Photo by Fernando Medina
Orlando, we have a rivalry.
In a hotly contested game that captured the imaginations of a sellout crowd at the Amway Center and nationally televised audience, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Miami Heat by the score of 104-95. This is the matchup that everyone expected to see when the season began. Sure, basketball was played but there were words exchanged, players ejected, and animosity that grew exponentially as the evening wore on. Rest assured, the Magic and Heat don’t like each other and last night confirmed that yet again. Orlando was led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. Dwight Howard had 24 points, 18 rebounds, and one block, providing a dominating presence for the Magic on both ends of the court. Jameer Nelson had one of the best games of his career, slicing and dicing Miami’s defense and finishing with 17 points and a career-high 14 assists. J.J. Redick, filling in for Vince Carter, snapped out of his shooting funk and chipped in with 20 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Brandon Bass played his best game in an Orlando uniform, scoring 18 points on an efficient 9-of-12 shooting. Lastly, Rashard Lewis was able to contribute with 14 points.
For the Heat, it was LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and little else. The SuperFriends combined for 64 of Miami’s 95 points. Despite an inferior supporting cast that is hurting with the absences of Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, the Heat were able to have a chance to win with talent alone.
Unfortunately for Miami, several things cost them — an unimaginative offense that relied too much on isolations, pick and rolls, and little else, an inability to punish the Magic in transition with James and Wade, and shaky pick and roll coverage that undermined their defense.
As was stated before the game, Orlando’s ability to get a victory against their rival relied on — literally — one thing.
Pick and rolls.
For 48 minutes, and this is no hyperbole, the Magic ran pick and rolls against the Heat and dared them to stop it. It’s no different than what the New Orleans Hornets, with Chris Paul at the helm, accomplished in their win against Miami.
Let’s break things down quarter-by-quarter.
In the first quarter, Orlando ran three primary plays — a staggered 1/5 pick and roll with Lewis and Howard setting screens for Nelson, the 1/5 pick and roll with Nelson and Howard, and the 1/4 pick and pop with Nelson and Bass. That’s it. And the Magic ran these pick and roll variations to death.
Nelson was a maestro in the period, running the pick and roll to perfection and creating easy looks for his teammates. On one possession, Nelson executed a 1/5 pick and roll with Howard. The beauty of this sequence is that Nelson dribble penetrated into the lane and lured Carlos Arroyo as well as Zydrunas Ilgauskas away from the basket to account for his presence. In an instant, Nelson tossed the basketball in the air and Howard retrieved it for an alley-oop dunk. On another possession, Nelson executed a staggered 1/5 pick and roll, used the screens set by Lewis and Howard to drill a mid-range jumper.
Throughout the game, Nelson did an excellent job of attacking the Heat’s defense and systematically breaking it down with the pick and roll.
With the first quarter winding down, Bass got off to a great start by getting a layup and mid-range jumper in the 1/4 pick and roll with Nelson (also got a dunk off a nifty feed from Howard). In the second quarter, Bass took over as he scored 10 points and provided a much-needed scoring boost from the second unit.
Bass was in the game with the second unit for Orlando and became the primary option offensively. Three times Bass was involved in the 1/4 pick and roll with either Chris Duhon or Nelson, and three times he scored. But perhaps the sequence that stood out the most for Bass in the period was when he was able to retrieve a loose ball from Miami and find Lewis in transition for a wide-open three-pointer. It’s a hustle play that kept the Heat in check just enough as head coach Stan Van Gundy was resting Nelson and Howard on the bench.
In the third quarter, the Magic went away from their pick and roll attack but instead relied on Howard in the low post. Howard had 13 points in the period and was able to score in a variety of ways. A jumpshot, two lefty hooks, and a dunk. The hook shots were gorgeous to watch because Howard set them up beautifully with a mini-Dream Shake on one possession and a spin move on another possession.
It bears repeating. Howard’s confidence on offense is sky high right now.
In the fourth quarter, Nelson and Redick took the reigns of the game. Yes, Redick.
With Nelson and Howard sitting at the start of the period, Redick helped Orlando generate some offense by executing pick and rolls. Likewise, Redick was able to make a crucial shot near the end of the game that helped seal the win.
As for Nelson, he was phenomenal.
[7:33] Nelson makes 25-foot three-point jumpshot (Pietrus assist)
[4:20] Nelson makes 16-foot jumpshot
[3:54] Nelson makes driving layup
[3:12] Redick makes 17-foot jumpshot (Nelson assist)
[1:55] Nelson makes 21-foot jumpshot
[1:06] Nelson makes free throw 1 of 2
[1:06] Nelson makes free throw 2 of 2
Nelson, like any good craftsman, finished the job against Miami by killing them in pick and rolls. That was the story of the game.
Also, Nelson took on Eddie House in isolation with the game coming to a close and ate him alive offensively. On his final possession, Nelson attacked House in an isolation play and drew a foul on a layup attempt. As Nelson walked to the free-throw line, House kept jawing at Nelson. Knowing that he doesn’t back down from anyone, Nelson barked back at House. Unfortunately for Nelson, he was ejected for his antics but not before leaving to a standing ovation.
When it comes down to it, Howard isn’t going to be the player that determines whether or not the Magic can beat the Heat consistently.
Yesterday proved that.