In a wild and crazy game, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Charlotte Bobcats by the score of 111-102 in overtime. With the win, the Magic notched their 50th win of the regular season — the fourth consecutive year with 50 wins or more for the franchise in the Van Gundy era. The victory also sealed the Bobcats’ slim fate of returning to the playoffs. With five games left before the postseason begins, it seemed as if Orlando and Charlotte would go through the motions and play the game just for the sake of playing it. However, the Magic paid a price when Dwight Howard stepped to the free-throw line in the second quarter. Gerald Henderson counted out the seconds as Howard was going through his routine at the charity stripe. Once Henderson reached 10 seconds, Howard was whistled for a violation by Bennett Salvatore and quite frankly, it’s something that should happen more often but referees turn a blind eye more often than not. However, on this occasion, because Henderson was counting out loud, there was no choice but to blow the whistle. Howard did not approve of the call and made it known by throwing the basketball to the baseline away from one of the refs. Immediately, Howard was called for a technical foul by Salvatore, his 18th of the season.
With it, Howard will be suspended for Sunday’s matinee against the Chicago Bulls unless the tech is rescinded. Surprisingly enough, that’s not all for drama. In the fourth quarter, Quentin Richardson got into a scuffle with Henderson after he was called for a foul. Richardson and Henderson exchanged words. Suddenly, something must have been said because Richardson immediately shoved his hands in Henderson’s face, prompting both teams to shove each other. Following the shoving match, Richardson was ejected, while Henderson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Kwame Brown were called for technicals since they were in the middle of the altercation. So a game that meant very little for Orlando turned into a matchup against an enemy.
The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as six players scored in double-figures. Taking the place of Jason Richardson in the starting lineup, Gilbert Arenas was excellent, putting up 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field, including making six three-pointers. Brandon Bass had 19 points and eight rebounds, Jameer Nelson had 18 points and nine assists, Turkoglu had 17 points and seven rebounds, while Howard had 15 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks. Coming off the bench, Ryan Anderson finished with 10 points.
There’s a lot of things that need to be mentioned, so let’s start with the fourth quarter because that’s where the game turned into a fight. Literally.
In the period, the Bobcats were able to jump out to a 10-point lead. Orlando’s defense throughout the evening was lackadaisical, as they allowed Henderson to score a career-high 32 points. Arenas was torched by Henderson routinely, but he didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates defensively. In any case, with Charlotte leading by the score of 81-71, it seemed like they were in control. But following a timeout by head coach Stan Van Gundy, the Magic were able to respond with a 19-4 run that flipped the script and gave them a five-point lead. During that run was when Richardson got ejected and after that, it seemed as if Orlando woke up and decided to compete. Especially on defense, where the intensity ratcheted up a few notches and the players began to buckle down. The plan, initially, was to rest Howard in the second half but following the technical, Van Gundy realized he might as well play the superstar center and he did. Howard returned in the middle of the period and played the rest of the way. Howard’s return to the starting lineup aided in the Magic’s run, as he was able to anchor things defensively.
Of course, Orlando scored points too. And in the quarter, the Magic were able to pick apart the Bobcats’ defense in the pick and roll. During the run, Turkoglu got things going with Howard in the 3/5 pick and roll. Then, as the game began to come to a close, Nelson took the reigns as the primary ball-handler and torched Charlotte in the pick and roll as well. There’s not much the Bobcats could do to prevent Nelson from knifing his way around the perimeter in staggered 1/5 pick and rolls with Bass and Howard as the screeners. Unfortunately for Orlando, their reliance on the pick and roll with Nelson nearly cost them. D.J. Augustin was able to tie the game at 96 apiece after Nelson executed a staggered 1/5 pick and roll, but was indecisive as to whether or not he wanted to shoot or pass. Then, with 16.6 seconds left in regulation, Nelson was handed the basketball. With time winding down, Nelson began to run a play that Van Gundy drew up out of a timeout but Augustin stole the ball. Augustin raced down the court as time was winding down but Nelson was able to recover in transition, contest the layup, and the game went into overtime. Augustin missed a reverse layup that would have won the game for Charlotte and Nelson got away with a critical mistake in crunch-time. Fortunately for Nelson and the Magic, once overtime began, they were methodical in their approach and the Bobcats wilted.
On the first five possessions of extra time, Orlando made all five shots. Arenas made a three-pointer on the wing, Nelson executed a 1/5 pick and roll with Howard and made a jumper, Turkoglu ran a 3/5 pick and roll with Howard and set him up for an alley-oop dunk, which prompted a timeout from head coach Paul Silas. Following the timeout, Nelson executed a 1/4 pick and roll with Bass, setting him up for a jumper. Then Nelson put the nail in the coffin by banking in a three-point shot in a 1/5 pick and roll with Howard. The three-pointer, which prompted a sheepish shrug from Nelson, gave the Magic an eight-point lead. Needless to say, Orlando coasted to victory and won a hard-fought game. Granted, it shouldn’t have been this close since the Bobcats were missing several key players. But a win is a win and surely the Magic won’t complain about that.
But let’s go back to Arenas, because he was spectacular.
Arenas carried Orlando in the first half and played like his old self. Arenas was able to get himself going by making three-point shots in transition while mixing in jumpers off the dribble for good measure. Arenas didn’t get to the free-throw line very much, but his shooting was on point the entire night. It’s doubtful that Arenas can pull this performance out of his hat consistently, but it’s more than obvious that he still has it in him to score. The only caveat is that his jumpshooting needs to be falling with consistency, given that he can’t rely on going to the foul line to bail him out when his shot isn’t there. Nevertheless, Arenas played a great game and treated Magic fans to the player that was once a star.
As for Howard, well, there’s no question that him earning his 18th technical foul of the season is disappointing. It’s doubtful that Howard would have changed many of the voters’ minds on Sunday in his matchup against the Bulls, but you never know what could have happened between the two leading MVP candidates. Instead, no one will know.
Did Howard warrant the tech? Yes, but it’s interesting that Howard isn’t called for 10-second violations more often. Clearly Howard gets away with it, so why make the call in the 78th game of the regular season? The 10-second violation is in the NBA rulebook, but it’s not something that impacts the length of the game by a considerable degree.
Also, it can be argued that Howard merely deserved a delay of game warning than a technical. Howard simply threw the basketball to the baseline, holding up play on the court. Granted, Howard did the same thing in a game against the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day and got a technical foul, which wasn’t rescinded by the league, so there’s precedence for the penalty.
But when players like LeBron James get away with borderline verbal abuse to officials, it makes people wonder if someone like Howard is getting unfairly penalized. In any case, the question isn’t whether or not Howard deserved the tech, it’s whether or not there’s consistency in the technical fouls that are being tagged on players. If James does the same thing, does he get a technical?
Rest assured, the answer varies from player to player.