Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
In front of a nationally televised audience and the largest home crowd in franchise history (19,193 at the Amway Center), the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers by the score of 89-75. Rarely does a regular season game carry much importance, especially in the eyes of head coach Stan Van Gundy, but this was a win that the Magic needed since they’ve been unable to beat a winning team in a month. And that the victory came against the Lakers, a squad still viewed by many — with the return of Andrew Bynum — as the favorite to win an NBA title this season, was doubly important. For Orlando, it was all about Dwight Howard as he was able to demolish Los Angeles’ frontline of Bynum and Pau Gasol, finishing with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks. If there’s any doubt that Howard hasn’t improved on offense this year, his outing against the Lakers should silence any of the doubters that remain. Not only was Howard dominant offensively, but his impact on defense was felt throughout the game as his presence made it difficult for Los Angeles to get things going at the rim consistently. Aside from Howard, Jason Richardson was the only other player for the Magic that scored in double-figures with 12 points. Safe to say this was Orlando’s best win of the regular season.
The Magic were able to beat the Lakers because committed to executing things that they should be doing in every game — play defense and give the basketball to Howard on a consistent basis.
The energy and effort defensively from Orlando was a sight for sore eyes, as every player on the roster defended with a purpose. There was one sequence in the third quarter that exemplified that defensive commitment. Los Angeles opted to play Shannon Brown at the shooting guard position, which meant that Kobe Bryant slid over to small forward and was matched up against Hedo Turkoglu. Common sense dictates that this is a mismatch in Bryant’s favor because he has the quickness and athleticism to score against Turkoglu without much trouble. So as Bryant isolated against Turkoglu, it seemed inevitable he would hit a jumper. But for those that remember when Turkoglu defended Bryant with effectiveness in the late stages of Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals, culminating in blocking a potential game-winning shot from behind near the end of regulation, it was deja vu. Sort of. Bryant tried to break Turkoglu down with his dribble. However, Turkoglu didn’t back down and eventually he stripped the ball out of bounds as Bryant attempted a shot. It was picture-perfect on-ball defense from Turkoglu and something that he’s capable of doing when he’s engaged. If there ever was a play that displayed the Magic really were willing to put in the work defensively, that was the best example.
Enough can’t be said about Howard, though.
In years past, Howard would struggle against the Lakers on offense because the length of Bynum and Gasol bothered him, plus he lacked a maturity offensively to try different ways of scoring. It seems like Howard has figured it out now because he used a blend of strength and finesse to impose his will against Bynum and Gasol when he was on the low block. There was nothing that Howard couldn’t do, as he was on the money with his hook shots and showed an incredible amount of patience when he was posting up. Orlando got Howard involved in pick and rolls as well to make use of his athleticism and that worked out well, as he was able to connect with Turkoglu for an alley-oop dunk on one possession of note. Howard didn’t stop there, as he was relentless on the offensive glass and was able to get put-back dunks in that matter if he wasn’t getting fouled in the process. Before it was stated that Howard had his best game of the season when he scored 40 points against the Chicago Bulls, but this performance tops that. Why? Because even though the Bulls have the best defense in the NBA, they don’t have a frontline that can realistically slow down Howard. Los Angeles, in theory, does but it didn’t matter, as Howard did what he pleased.
Especially in the second half, where Howard didn’t miss a field goal attempt.
[11:41] Howard makes layup
[6:37] Howard dunk (Turkoglu assist)
[5:03] Howard makes layup
[1:39] Howard makes 9-foot two-point shot (Arenas assist)
[0:00] Howard dunk (Arenas assist)
[11:03] Howard makes 15-foot two-point jumpshot (Redick assist)
[10:14] Howard makes 4-foot running jumper
[5:37] Howard dunk
[3:30] Howard makes 8-foot two-point shot (Redick assist)
Only six turnovers and a cut under his right eye from an inadvertent elbow from Lamar Odom were the lone blemishes on Howard’s day.