The Portland Trail Blazers were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 97-83. For the Magic, they’re now on a three-game losing streak. An item of note is that this is the first time, in the Stan Van Gundy era, that Orlando has lost three games in a row without scoring more than 85 points in each game. Not sure if that anecdote carries any significance, but it’s something worth pointing out. The Blazers were led by Andre Miller, who flirted with a triple-double and finished with 22 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, and two steals. Wesley Matthews continues his strong play in the starting lineup for Portland, finishing with 20 points and three steals. Nicolas Batum chipped in with 15 points and 10 rebounds. For the Magic, it was all Dwight Howard — 39 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks. Yes, four other players for Orlando scored in double-figures but they got their points when the game was no longer in contest.
Whether it was players still recovering from the stomach virus or whatever else, but the Magic played one of their most uninspired games of the regular season.
There’s not many things to say about the defeat. However, it was fascinating to see this game pan out similarly to Orlando’s loss against the Miami Heat early in the year. There was lots of Howard, but little support from his teammates offensively.
Looking to test the Blazers’ big men, the Magic established Howard in the low post early and often in the first quarter. At the time, the strategy paid off because there wasn’t much that Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla could do to stop Howard from getting whatever he wanted on the low block but this later turned out to be fool’s gold. Orlando ran a heavy diet of 4-out/1-in offensive sets for Howard in the period and he responded with 18 points.
[11:15] Howard makes 7-foot two point shot
[9:18] Howard makes free throw 1 of 2
[9:18] Howard makes free throw 2 of 2
[8:48] Howard makes 18-foot two point jumpshot (Nelson assist)
[7:56] Howard makes layup (Carter assist)
[7:26] Howard makes 4-foot two point shot
[5:26] Howard makes 14-foot two point jumpshot (Nelson assist)
[4:26] Howard makes free throw 1 of 2
[4:26] Howard makes free throw 2 of 2
[3:09] Howard makes layup (Nelson assist)
[1:08] Howard makes layup
Howard could do no wrong offensively.
Ironically enough, Howard’s success on offense turned out to bad a bad thing for the Magic because it took away the playmaking abilities of Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter on the perimeter. With the basketball consistently being inserted into the post, Orlando stood around and ball movement ceased to exist. For instance, there was a noticeable lack of pick and rolls being executed by either Nelson or Carter. So although Howard was able to get his, none of his teammates got theirs.
That’s partly one of the reasons that the Magic lost.
Another reason is that Miller thoroughly outplayed Nelson. Miller ran pick and rolls to perfection, while posting up from time-to-time, and torched Orlando’s defense in the process. Also, Head coach Nate McMillan astutely inserted a small-ball lineup of Miller, Brandon Roy, Matthews, Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge. This unit had great success against the Magic, primarily because Aldridge’s presence on the perimeter forced Howard to account for him. As such, that opened up the paint for Portland to do damage and they did just that. A sequence that encapsulated this example occurred during the second quarter when Aldridge was able to get Howard to come out at him as he made a 19-foot jumpshot.
Two possessions later, Aldridge pump-faked a shot and because Howard was on the perimeter to guard him, there was no one in the paint from the Magic to offer help defense. As a result, Aldridge got an uncontested dunk.
With that aforementioned lineup, the Blazers turned a 14-point deficit in the period and cut it to a single point at halftime.
From there, Portland was able to take control partly due to Orlando’s inability to manufacture points from anyone not named Howard. Yes, the Magic’s defense was problematic throughout the course of the evening but that wasn’t the main issue.
The issue was that Nelson, Carter and to a lesser extent, Lewis, couldn’t score.
The bad news is that this is becoming a recurring theme.