By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive
Unlike the last time the Magic and Bucks played (Dec. 4) when only eight Magic players suited up due to an illness that plagued the team during a Midwest road trip, Orlando had all of its old and new pieces on Wednesday.
And disparate from the result last time, on this night it was the Magic who may have made the Bucks feel slightly ill as Orlando defeated Milwaukee, 97-87, for its season-best seventh straight victory and 10th consecutive at home over the Bucks.
Out to prove a point after missing the last meeting, which helped allow Andrew Bogut to erupt for 31 points and 18 rebounds, Dwight Howard racked up 28 points and 13 rebounds. Bogut, on the other hand, was limited to six points and shot just 2-of-10 from the free throw line before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
“Dwight was dominant and that’s what we needed him to be tonight,” Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Jameer Nelson contributed 10 points and nine assists and Hedo Turkoglu, who buried two clutch shots to halt the Bucks’ late rally, and Jason Richardson each recorded 13 points.
Unlike most of their victories during this active winning streak, the Magic did not shoot the ball particularly well from beyond the arc. They were just 5-of-22 from 3-point range but managed to still feature six players in double figures.
They were, however, stifling defensively. Orlando limited Milwaukee to just 39 percent shooting from the field.
Corey Maggette led the Bucks, who remained without Brandon Jennings as he recovers from a foot injury, with 21 points and Larry Sanders contributed 15 points.
The Magic will seek their eighth straight victory when they host the Houston Rockets on Friday.
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They completed two blockbuster trades, had players recover from both injury and illness and have reclaimed their position among the East’s elite.
But the biggest difference from the last time the Magic matched up with the Bucks is that in this head-to-head battle superstar center Dwight Howard was on the court.
And on Wednesday night, he made all the difference.
Orlando’s Superman exploded for 28 points and 13 rebounds to lift the Magic to a 97-87 home triumph over the Bucks.
After throttling Orlando for 31 points and 18 rebounds earlier this season – then playing against former Magic backup center Marcin Gortat – Andrew Bogut had a miserable showing versus Howard, posting just six points and seven rebounds, while fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
“I would say Andrew Bogut would attest that Dwight Howard is a pretty good player,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Dwight was dominant and that’s what we needed him to be tonight.”
While Howard was superb, the rest of Orlando’s offense was balanced.
After Monday’s contest where eight players scored in double figures, the Magic had six players cross into double digits against Milwaukee.
Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson came through in the clutch, combining to fire off 18 of their 26 points in the second half.
But despite a balanced offensive effort and staunch defensive stand down the stretch, Van Gundy and his squad were disappointed with a mid-game malaise that allowed the Bucks to remain in the hunt.
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Obviously disappointed he didn’t have the opportunity to play the last time the Magic and Bucks tangled on Dec. 4, Dwight Howard wanted to prove a point to his counterpart, Andrew Bogut, that when he is protecting the paint there is no way he can rack up the kind of statistics he did that night.
In early December, Bogut erupted for season highs of 31 points and 18 rebounds. On Wednesday, on the other hand, the Australian center was limited to just six points on 2-of-5 shooting from the field and 2-of-10 from the free throw line.
Howard, in contrast, powered home 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as Orlando earned some revenge on that stomach-virus-plagued night at the Bradley Center.
“Andrew Bogut would probably attest that Dwight Howard is a pretty good player,” Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said.
A frequent role for Hedo Turkoglu during his first stint with the Magic was to be the hero and hit late-game critical shots. While it may not be as imperative for the Turkish superstar to be Orlando’s primary fourth-quarter scorer because of the plethora of talent on the current roster, he still can deliver if asked to.
With Milwaukee climbing back in the fourth, Turk buried two pivotal shots late, including a 3-pointer that halted the Bucks’ momentum with 3:11 left and 16-foot jumper on the subsequent possession.
Accustomed to being a scoring point guard with his ability to finish at the rim and bury outside jumpers, Jameer Nelson realized that if he wanted to be among the upper echelon at his position, he would need to become a more efficient distributor.
As demonstrated on Wednesday when he dished out nine assists, Nelson has clearly developed the very critical ability of finding his teammates for open shots.
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No disrespect to Atlanta or New York – two teams that believe they have enough firepower to contend with the East’s alleged elite – but it just seems those other four clubs are primed for a highly anticipated conference semifinal round.
Depending which teams match up (if playoff started today, Boston and Orlando would clash in a rematch of last season’s East Finals) may determine which teams advance to the conference finals.
While it may only be January and teams may not be finished shaping up their rosters (ex. Orlando may acquire another big man, Chicago may deal for a more prolific starting shooting guard), it can’t hurt to start analyzing what we can expect to transpire come playoff time.
Much will rely on the health of each team. Will Joakim Noah be 100 percent after having surgery on his thumb last month; will Kevin Garnett overcome his recent leg injury; will Udonis Haslem return from his foot problem?
By examining the rosters – and out of respect to the Hawks and Knicks who deserve to be included since they have both played very effective basketball – and by foreseeing what you expect from each team by the beginning of the playoffs, vote on which squad you think ranks No. 1 in the following categories.
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Nelson came somewhat close to delivering a back-to-back stat trifecta, accumulating 10 points, nine assists and seven rebounds against the Bucks on Wednesday.
While Orlando’s starting point guard has been playing excellent basketball all season, it may help that he’s now being pushed in practice by recent acquisition Gilbert Arenas.
“He’s getting pushed from Gilbert; he’s making him better,” Dwight Howard explained. “Every day in practice they’re pushing each other, going against each other and what that does is make our team better.”
With nine dimes on the evening, Mighty Mouse is now averaging a career-best 6.8 assists per game.
But Rhino paid the price.
The Magic forward cut his pinky, while hanging on the rim following the finish.
“It was a learning experience,” joked Anderson, who tallied seven points and three rebounds. “To not hang on the rim with one arm.”
It’s the fifth time in six games that Orlando has managed to keep the opposition below the 100-point plateau.