By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive
On Friday for the Magic, it was a nearly faultless third quarter that catapulted Orlando to its season-best eighth straight victory.
Jason Richardson and Brandon Bass each registered 18 points for the game as the Magic erupted for 39 points in the third and cruised to a 110-95 triumph over the Houston Rockets.
Similar to the other seven victories during this winning streak, the Magic got another balanced offensive effort. Six Orlando players scored in double figures, including Ryan Anderson (16), Dwight Howard (13), Hedo Turkoglu (12) and Jameer Nelson (10).
Nelson and Turkoglu combined to dish out 14 of the Magic’s 25 assists, while Howard grabbed 11 rebounds.
"I'm not sure guys are paying attention to the winning streak but the main goal is to continue to play healthy basketball," Nelson said.
With Orlando's big guys in foul trouble throughout, Head Coach Stan Van Gundy got a big boost from Earl Clark, who has played sparingly since joining the Magic last month.
Clark finished with eight points and four rebounds and provided a solid defensive effort.
In spite of attempting just 12 free throws, the Magic connected on all of them.
Kevin Martin led the Rockets with a game-high 27 points, while Luis Scola contributed 14.
If it defeats the Mavericks on Saturday, Orlando will match a franchise best for most consecutive wins in a season with nine straight.
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He was referred to as a toss-in and an extra piece. If it was baseball, he may have even been granted the dubious title of a “player to be named later.”
But after 10 games as a member of the Magic, Clark is starting to garnish some attention as a gifted offensive power forward and future quality defender.
With Dwight Howard, Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson in early foul trouble against the Rockets on Friday, the second-year player out of Louisville stepped up to the plate and delivered a spark.
Clark knocked down four of his eight attempts from the floor on his way to eight points in just under 18 minutes of action. He also managed to collect four rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal.
“I just try to stay ready,” Clark explained. “I know this can happen any game and that’s what your mindset has to be. Whenever I get called to play, I want to be ready.”
The Magic liked Clark enough prior to the 2009 NBA Draft that they considered finding a way to select him. Although that didn’t work out, the franchise is more than happy he’s now part of the team.
That’s because Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy sees a lot of future potential in the gifted forward.
“I think that Earl is going to be a really good player,” Van Gundy explained. “I think that offensively he is very talented. He’s quick, he can shoot the ball and he can put it on the floor.”
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Since last month’s two blockbuster trades, the Magic have been fantastic – winning via their elevated energy and offensive balance.
Orlando has also defeated some of the top tier teams in the NBA, including the Spurs, Celtics and Knicks.
But what they have not had the opportunity to do yet is beat any of the upper echelon adversaries on the road. During this winning streak, only two of the victories have come away from home and they were against two of the least successful teams this season, the Nets and Cavaliers.
On this five-game stretch of road games, the Magic play at the Mavericks, Hornets, Thunder, Timberwolves and Celtics.
Not including Minnesota, those other four opponents had a combined record of 98-44 heading into Friday’s action.
Fortunately for Orlando, both Dirk Nowitzki (knee) and Caron Butler (out for season with knee injury) will not be on the court for Dallas when the Magic visit on Saturday. However, since Friday’s game was an 8 p.m. start, Orlando will not arrive in north Texas until around 5 a.m. – resulting in very little rest.
It’s difficult to set a goal by the conclusion of this five-game stretch, but unquestionably the Magic want to prove this eight-game winning streak is not an aberration.
Without much argument from most of the NBA universe, observers will have a keen eye on the Martin Luther King Day showdown between the Magic and Celtics. Boston will be seeking some revenge from what transpired on Christmas Day, while Orlando will want to add more fear into the minds of the Celtics if the two teams should meet in the playoffs.
No, the Magic and Rockets aren’t rivals, so to speak, but their history is rich.
It all began when Orlando and Houston clashed in the 1995 NBA Finals. It was a matchup of two of the premier centers in the league, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Years later and over the course of a three season period, the Rockets and Magic each landed lottery luck and selected franchise centers to be the cornerstones of their respective organizations.
Houston chose Yao Ming first overall in 2002, while Orlando opted for Dwight Howard in 2004.
In between, the two franchises decided to complete one of the more preeminent trades of the century when headliners Tracy McGrady and Steve Francis were a part of a mega six-player deal.
The partnership didn’t stop there as in 2009 the Magic acquired Rafer Alston from the Rockets, which helped Orlando advance to the NBA Finals that season after Jameer Nelson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury (although Nelson returned for The Finals).
One of the stars on that Orlando team that earned a trip to The Finals, Courtney Lee, currently plays for the Rockets.
While Stan Van Gundy is the active head coach of the Magic, his brother Jeff served as the head man for the Rockets between 2003-07.
It was only fitting that the older of the two, Jeff, worked as ESPN’s color analyst during the broadcast on Friday while his younger bro called plays out on the Magic’s bench.
Patrick Ewing, meanwhile, who is currently one of the assistant coaches in Orlando, played against the Rockets in the 1994 NBA Finals while captain for the Knicks and served as one of Houston’s assistant coaches for three seasons.
“We’re playing better than we were before the trade,” Van Gundy explained. “We’re playing well.”
During the eight-game streak, Orlando has won each contest by an average of 14.4 points per game.
J-Rich went a scorching 7-for-8 from the field on his way to a team-high 18 points.
Brandon Bass (18), Jason Richardson (18), Ryan Anderson (16), Dwight Howard (13), Hedo Turkoglu (12) and Jameer Nelson (10) all contributed to keeping the streak alive against the Rockets.
“It’s good to have that balance,” Howard said. “Against the good teams, you need a balanced attack to beat them.”
The Magic were a perfect 12-for-12 from the charity stripe.
It’s only the second time this season that Orlando did not miss a free throw in a game.