Around the Amway -- February 8, 2011



By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive

MAGIC SURGE PAST CLIPPERS
By Josh Cohen

The Orlando Magic delivered the goods when things mattered most.

Dwight Howard was dominant as usual with 22 points and 20 rebounds and Orlando’s 3-point shooters erupted in the fourth quarter as the Magic surged past the L.A. Clippers, 101-85, on Tuesday.

But perhaps most significant was Orlando’s stifling defense – a facet that Head Coach Stan Van Gundy has repeatedly focused on at practice.

The Magic limited rookie sensation Blake Griffin to just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field and the entire team to just 39 percent shooting.

Orlando’s lockdown defense led to several baskets in transition in the final frame – including a few momentum shifting 3-pointers from both J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson. The Magic, in effect, outscored the Clippers by 15 in the fourth.

Six Magic players scored in double figures, including Jameer Nelson (17), Anderson (13), Redick (12), Jason Richardson (10) and Earl Clark (10).

"When we feel a little more pressure to make shots, guys knock them down," Anderson said about the team's clutch shooting late.

It was Orlando’s ninth straight victory over the Clippers, who are now 0-3 on their 11-game road trip and remained without Eric Gordon (wrist) and Chris Kaman (ankle).

Baron Davis led L.A. with 25 points and eight assists, while Ike Diogu had a strong performance with a season-best 18 points.

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START OF SOMETHING SPECIAL
By Dan Savage

The NBA regular season is similar to a roller coast ride. It’s important to remember that every team goes through their series of ups and downs.

Take last year’s Magic squad for example. After dropping seven of nine games to start January, every analyst from here to Los Angeles was ready to write the Magic out of championship contention. Orlando then proceeded to win six of its next seven games and once again emerged as a favorite in the East.

That’s why it’s essential not to take the Magic’s recent woes too seriously and remember there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light could be right around the corner.

After losing five of its last eight, Orlando used a second-half surge to blow the Clippers out.

While it may seem like a run-of-the-mill triumph over an inferior opponent now, in reality, it could end up being the turning point in the Magic’s 2010-11 campaign.

That’s why I’m going out on a limb. Call me the Savage Soothsayer for a second here.

I’m going to project that Orlando doesn’t lose another game prior to the All-Star break. That equates to a clean sweep of Philadelphia, New Orleans, the L.A. Lakers and Washington.

Actually, why stop there? I’m going to add on to that and predict that they don’t drop another contest in February. Tack on wins over Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Charlotte.

Seem crazy? That’s what people said when I stated Orlando would head back to the ECF last January. Turns out, that wasn't so crazy after all.

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ALL ABOUT CONFIDENCE
By Josh Cohen

Just like anything else in life, you need confidence to reach your goals. If your head is up and you have lofty aspirations, the sky is the limit.

The Orlando Magic understand this well.

It’s apparent based on the what every player is saying during pre and postgame interviews that the Magic are confident and believe ultimately they will be the team to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Dwight Howard, for example, who enjoyed his fifth 20-20 performance this season with 22 points and 20 rebounds in Tuesday’s victory over the Clippers, claims that by the start of the playoffs, the Magic will be right where they want to be.

“Just be patient and you will see that we will be fine,” he said.

Gilbert Arenas, similarly, who has struggled since joining Orlando on Dec. 18, is self-assured that as his knee continues to feel stronger that he will be able to provide more to the team.

Most importantly, though, is that Gil recognizes that he must do other things on the court until he regains the explosiveness that once transformed him into a three-time NBA All-Star.

“I might not have my confidence in my shot, but you know Ryan, J.J. have theirs and they know that I’m looking for them when I get it,” Arenas said.

As long as the Magic are playing their best basketball by the beginning of the postseason, confidence will be flying high when things matter most.
HIGH GRIFFINATION
By Josh Cohen

It’s remarkable the number of accomplishments rookie sensation Blake Griffin has already achieved in just his first season on the NBA hardwood.

Although he was drafted in 2009 with the first overall pick, Griffin suffered a stress fracture in his left knee during the preseason that concluded his first season.

Rather than let a freak injury dismantle his potential, the Oklahoma City native spent a year rehabbing his knee before ultimately returning to become one of the most exciting players in the league.

Always astounding spectators with his thunderous slam dunks and relentless hustle, the Clippers forward has already notched 43 double-doubles this season, including an 10-point and 12-rebound effort on Tuesday against the Magic.

Griffin, moreover, has already become the first rookie since Allen Iverson in 1996-97 to record two 40-plus scoring performances in his inaugural season and the first rookie since Tim Duncan in 1998 to be named an All-Star.

Whenever Griffin flies up for a jam, crowds– like the one at Amway Center – become flabbergasted with what they expect to witness. It’s very similar to the kind of reaction fans have for Dwight Howard when he flushes home a monster jam.

It’s not far-fetched to believe – especially if Eric Gordon also continues to develop into a first-rate player and Los Angeles keeps on drafting well – that the Clippers will be in the playoff mix far quicker than expected.

There should be plenty of basketball optimism in L.A. -- and unlike years past -- it's not just optimism for the Lakers.
QUICK HITS: BING, BANG, BOOM
By Dan Savage

  • DWIGHT4MVP: At the start of the season, it was hard to imagine that Dwight Howard could get any better. But Orlando’s Superman has done just that in his 2010-11 campaign.

    He’s sensational, unbelievable and simply out of this world.

    Tuesday was no different for Howard’s commanding crusade as he notched his fifth 20-20 game of the season by recording a team-high 22 points and a contest-best 20 rebounds in Orlando’s win over Los Angeles.

    “He does it on both ends of the floor,” Blake Griffin marveled. “He’s right up there with everybody else (in this year’s MVP race) in my opinion.”


  • EASY EARL: There’s no doubt that Earl Clark has the skill set to develop into a quality player in this league. But what’s been surprising is how quickly he’s been able to adapt to Orlando’s system in such a short period of time.

    He’s already made significant strides when you take into consideration his age and experience level. And he has immediately made quality contributions in several games.

    Take Tuesday for example. Clark poured in 10 points off the pine on an efficient 4-of-8 effort from the floor to help the Magic take down the Clippers.

    It marks the third time since joining Orlando that Clark has scored in double digits.


  • SIX PACK: The Orlando Magic improved to 16-2 this season when six or more players score in double figures.
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