AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
When Dwight Howard was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade during the offseason, the general consensus among NBA pundits was that the Orlando Magic did not receive equal value for Howard or close to it.
The mainstream media and blogosphere were shouting far and wide that the Magic were the losers of the trade because they didn’t get Andrew Bynum, widely accepted as the second-best center in the league, or even Andre Iguodala, an All-Star caliber player and one of the best defenders in the NBA.
No high draft picks. No nothing.
Instead, Orlando got Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Christian Eyenga (waived by the Magic), Josh McRoberts, a future first round draft pick from the Philadelphia Sixers, a first round draft pick in 2014 from the Denver Nuggets, first round draft pick in 2017 from the Los Angeles Lakers, and two second round picks. An underwhelming haul for Howard.
Or was it?
Fast-forward to today and Bynum has yet to play a game for the Sixers due to his troubled knees and Iguodala has been a disappointment with the Nuggets so far this season. Meanwhile, players like Vucevic and Afflalo have been solid for the Magic.
This isn’t to suggest that Orlando got the last laugh in the Howard trade because it’s still too early to judge, but it’s safe to say — after the latest performances from Vucevic and Afflalo against the Miami Heat on Monday — the Magic are silencing their critics.
Even though Orlando lost 112-110 in overtime to the Heat, the defending champs, in a wildly entertaining game, Vucevic and Afflalo once again proved they can be key parts of the Magic’s rebuilding efforts.
Ironically enough, Vucevic channeled his inner-Howard by posting his first career 20-20 game with 20 points and 29 rebounds. Vucevic made his presence felt the most by dominating the paint with offensive rebounds putbacks. To say Vucevic cleaned the glass would be an understatement, as he nearly outrebounded Miami by himself (33-29).
It’s unlikely Vucevic will ever have this performance like this again in his career, but at the very least Orlando knows they have a double-double machine on their hands.
As for Afflalo, he showed again that he’s more than capable of being an efficient high-usage player for the Magic when he optimizes his shot selection. When Afflalo isn’t relying heavily on midrange jumpers and is aggressive in getting to the free-throw line and shooting three-pointers, scoring 28 points on 19 shots doesn’t seem like a daunting task.
Who knows what the future holds for Orlando. Life after Howard sounds scary for Magic fans, but games like these show that the future doesn’t look so bad.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Vucevic had the game of his life, finishing with 20 points and 29 rebounds (both career-highs) in the first 20-20 game of his career. His 29 rebounds set a Magic franchise record (the previous record-holder was Shaquille O’Neal, who had 28 rebounds in 1993).
Trailing 108-106 with 17.7 seconds remaining in overtime, Orlando had possession with a chance to tie or take the lead. But J.J. Redick threw an errant pass that was intercepted by Dwyane Wade, which led to a dunk on the other end and effectively ended the game.
That Was … an Instant Classic
In front of an announced crowd of 19,311 at Amway Center, the largest crowd ever to see a Magic home game, the Magic and Heat engaged in a thrilling duel on New Year’s Eve that went down to the wire.