Around the Amway -- February 13, 2011
By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive
The Orlando Magic knew all along that to beat any of the other elite opponents in the league, they would need to prove to be defensive stalwarts.
They certainly showcased that on Sunday against the reigning two-time NBA champions in an 89-75 victory.
Disallowing Kobe Bryant from having one of his conventional scoring outbursts and also forcing the Lakers to take contested jumpers all afternoon, the Magic clamped down and limited their opponent to a season low in scoring in arguably their best defensive effort of the season.
Aside from their intensity and brilliant defensive execution – which included making intelligent switches on all pick-and-rolls and also forbidding L.A. from muscling inside with their assortment of bigs, the Magic got another supreme performance from Dwight Howard.
In spite of getting into foul trouble in the first half, Howard withstood any temptations to be unnecessarily aggressive and instead zoomed in on thrashing the Lakers’ front line. He finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds and demonstrated why there is absolutely no answer for the league’s most dominant center.
"I thought he was very smart," Stan Van Gundy said about Howard. "He had a heck of a game."
Somewhat fascinating based on the final score, but besides Howard, only Jason Richardson scored in double figures with 12 points. Orlando also committed eight more turnovers than L.A., but perhaps the most two most glaring statistics were the rebounding differential and the Lakers’ 3-point shooting.
The Magic controlled a 46-34 advantage on the glass and also held L.A. to a dismal 2-of-16 from beyond the arc.
Bryant only managed to record 17 points, while Andrew Bynum also collected 17 points to go along with nine rebounds.
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As Dwight Howard walked into the Magic’s locker room and sat down in his chair, preparing to speak to the media, fans huddled outside chanting “M-V-P, M-V-P,” hoping Orlando’s Superman would hear their calls.
Their support for D12 is admirable, because this season, it’s unquestionable that Howard is more than worthy of the most prolific individual award the league has to offer.
Unlike most of his competitors, Howard dominates on both ends of the court. He’s immensely effective offensively, averaging 22.6 points per game. He aggressively attacks the glass, corralling 13.9 rebounds per contest. And he also owns the defensive interior, rejecting 2.1 shots per affair.
“We went through an 11-game stretch before the Boston game … and with Dwight on the floor, teams were shooting 42 percent against us and with Dwight on the bench, people were shooting 48 percent against us,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy explained. “That’s huge; that’s going from a league-leading team to one of the worst defensive teams in the league.”
With the national spotlight on Orlando, Howard again delivered an out-of-this world performance against the Lakers.
The Magic’s All-Star center exploded for a game-high 31 points on a scorching 13-for-16 shooting effort from the field, while pulling in a contest-best 13 rebounds.
“Of course he’s (an MVP candidate),” Kobe Bryant said. “Every year he is.”
His coach couldn’t agree more.
“I don’t know if anybody else impacts that many possessions in a game,” Van Gundy added. “Do I think he should be the MVP? Yes, I do.”
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There are always specific plays from each season that will forever last in our memories.
Throughout franchise history, moreover, Dwight Howard’s game-winning slam against the Spurs in 2007 (WATCH) and Nick Anderson’s steal on Michael Jordan during the 1995 playoffs (WATCH) are two of the more renowned plays.
On Sunday against the Lakers, another extraordinary play was added to the list of all-time memorable moments.
With just seconds remaining in the third quarter and the Magic all but forced out of a quality possession, Gilbert Arenas launched the ball toward the hoop and Howard – somehow, someway – timed it perfectly as he lifted up and jammed home a monstrous dunk to beat the buzzer (WATCH).
What made this fantastic play even more intriguing, however, was that Arenas’ left foot was out of bounds prior to his release. But since the officials did not blow the whistle, the play continued.
The refs did review the dunk to assure that Howard flushed it home prior to the horn, but based on the guidelines, they could not review whether Arenas' foot stepped on the line.
While Orlando had already sustained momentum earlier in the third, this awesome slam inspired the team and the fans to thoroughly crush the Lakers in the fourth quarter.
It’s possible that if the Magic can utilize this triumph as a source of motivation and string together a stretch of victories, this play could be remembered as “the play” that turned the season around.
1) Kobe Elevates Status
Prior to the L.A. Lakers capturing the NBA title in 2009, Kobe Bryant was certainly regarded as one of the game’s all-time greatest scorers and showmen. But many NBA spectators weren’t convinced Kobe could win a championship without Shaquille O’Neal by his side, and a result, be considered one of the best players ever. Following L.A.’s Game 5 triumph in The Finals, Bryant enormously elevated his reputation from great to renowned.
2) Fisher’s Heroic Shot
Throughout this career, Derek Fisher has been affiliated with a few historic shots and moments. The 15-year veteran, for instance, buried one of the most improbable shots in NBA history against San Antonio during the 2004 NBA playoffs (WATCH) and made an unimaginable return during the 2007 playoffs while playing for the Jazz after his daughter had emergency surgery to treat eye cancer. But perhaps Fisher’s most memorable play was the game-tying 3-pointer he hit in Game 4 to force overtime that eventually led to a Lakers triumph.
3) Magic’s First Ever Finals Win
It was only the second time the Orlando Magic had advanced to the NBA Finals and while they didn’t win the series and capture the NBA championship, fans got the opportunity to celebrate the franchise’s first ever victory in the Finals. Dwight Howard registered 21 points and 14 rebounds and four others scored at least 18 points as the Magic cruised to a Game 3 win.
4) Lee’s Missed Attempt
It was one of the only shot attempts in NBA history in which “science” determined how makeable of a shot it was. No matter how many times you watch the replay of Courtney Lee’s missed layup at the regulation buzzer in Game 2, it remains virtually impossible to conclude the answer to that question. (WATCH)
Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy had four points he hammered home to his team prior to Sunday’s contest against the Los Angeles Lakers.
1) Don’t play out of a hole
2) Deliver a more consistent defensive effort
3) Have a better shot selection
4) Make improved decisions down the stretch
The Magic must have heard the message loud and clear, because they answered all of their head coach’s wishes.
After playing come-from-behind basketball for nearly every game in recent memory, the Magic jumped out to a 24-21 first-quarter lead over the Lakers and never trailed by more than four points the rest of the way.
On the defensive end, Orlando’s effort was suffocating. The Lakers shot a dismal 39.3 percent from the field, an atrocious 12.5 percent from three-point land and were held to a season-low 75 points.
On the offensive side of the court, the Magic’s shot selection was much improved and it showed. The Magic made 48.7 percent of their attempts from the floor, led by a 13-of-16 shooting line from All-Star center Dwight Howard.
And while the Magic’s decision making was far from great, they lowered their turnover ratio down the stretch. After giving the ball away 14 times in the first three quarters of action, Orlando committed just three turnovers in the final frame.
“I haven’t felt this good basketball-wise in a while,” Van Gundy said with a wide-stretched smile after the game.
That's because his team delivered the exact results he was looking for.