Around the Amway - April 10, 2011
By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive
They say there aren’t any moral victories in professional sports, but for some reason, it feels acceptable to label Sunday’s loss an honorable defeat.
Without Dwight Howard, who was serving his one-game suspension for collecting his 18th technical foul last game, Orlando managed to play tooth and nail with the top seed in the East.
Ryan Anderson posted a career-best 28 points and Jameer Nelson dished out 11 assists, but his potential game-tying 3-pointer that looked almost identical to the game-winner he hit a few weeks ago against Denver was released just after the buzzer.
"I thought I did (get it off in time), but the ref made a good call," Nelson said.
With the Bulls a prospective second round playoff opponent, the Magic should feel a certain degree of confidence should the two teams meet.
After sitting out in Charlotte for some much-needed rest, Jason Richardson returned and enjoyed a marvelous performance with 24 points. Nelson contributed 17 points and Chris Duhon, who has seen limited time ever since December’s blockbuster trades, nailed all three of his field goal attempts.
Derrick Rose, meanwhile, took full advantage of Orlando’s lack of interior presence and erupted for 39 points on 13-of-17 shooting from the field.
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And after a nail-biting 102-99 defeat at the hands of the Bulls that thought is now consuming my mind.
What if Howard didn’t pick up that tech and instead was able to put the MVP battle between him and Derrick Rose on display on a national stage courtesy of ABC?
Would Derrick Rose have notched 39 points? Probably not.
Would his presence have closed the three-point gap that separated the Magic from defeat and overtime? Most likely.
Would fans of the NBA, the Bulls and the Magic have been treated with an even more impressive display of basketball? Definitely.
Would the Amway Center faithful, some of whom were attending their first NBA game – including a young girl who made the jumbotron – been provided with more value for their hard-earned cash that was likely spent on a ticket prior to Howard being suspended? Absolutely.
It’s a shame that Orlando’s Superman was not able to go to battle on his home turf against the player, who perhaps provides the greatest threat to him winning this season’s MVP trophy.
It would have been great to watch the support Magic fans throughout Amway Center would have been able to give him each time he approached the free throw line as they would have roared “M-V-P.”
Sadly, we didn’t have the opportunity to witness any of those things. We would have all been better off.
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If I had to project what the Magic’s superstar was thinking while he observed his team in a potential second round playoff preview against the Bulls, here would be my assumptions.
1) Don’t worry about Derrick Rose so much driving to the basket and attacking with ease; I will make sure life is much more difficult for my fellow MVP candidate.
2) I always can rely on Jameer Nelson to come up big in a game where he needed to be great. Although his potential game-tying 3-pointer didn’t count, I knew that shot would go in.
3) While he is forced to play out of position when I am out, Ryan Anderson is such a smart player that hustles on every play. His rebounding and blistering outside shooting will be needed even when I am back.
4) I know Brandon Bass may be disappointed about his offensive performance (2-of-11 shooting), but I give him credit for limiting Carlos Boozer to just 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting.
5) I think if we play like we are capable of and we limit turnovers and hustle for every rebound and loose ball, we will have a great opportunity to beat Chicago if we play them in the playoffs.
No matter what he was thinking, one thing is for sure, Howard can't wait to rejoin his teammates on Monday when they visit Philadelphia to clash with the 76ers.
The Chicago Bulls deserve every accolade they earn this year – especially considering they exceeded expectations by leaps and bounds.
They defeated the Miami Heat in all three of their meetings, beat the Orlando Magic three times as well and triumphed over the Boston Celtics twice.
However, to conclude and suggest that the Bulls are in any way the “favorites” to advance to the NBA Finals is just simply an overstatement.
There are a variety of reasons why I feel this way – and in no way am I trying to deflate all of their accomplishments.
Aside from their limited amount of postseason experience (eliminated in the First Round two years straight) and their extreme youth at their most pivotal positions (point guard, center), simple percentages indicate they are not likely to earn a trip to The Finals this year.
Since 2003, only once has the No. 1 seed from the Eastern Conference advanced to the NBA Finals (Celtics in 2008). Most recently, the No. 1 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 were eliminated by No. 4 seeded Boston in the second round. The Celtics ultimately eradicated the Orlando Magic in the conference finals.
As a result, while undeniably the Bulls are a team on the rise and will be extremely competitive in the playoffs, there are enough reasons to believe they should not be considered the “favorites” to come out of the East this year.
Handed the difficult task of filling Superman’s shoes, Anderson didn’t succumb to the pressure and instead made the most of his increased minutes.
The third-year standout erupted for team-highs in both points (28) and rebounds (10) to help a shorthanded Magic squad nearly pull off a victory against the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.
“He stepped up big for us,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. "He played a great game."
Yet despite playing extremely high level and helping the Magic on both ends of the court, Anderson was unable to get one play out of his mind: a rebound by Loul Deng.
With just 12.8 seconds left and the Magic down two, Chicago’s Taj Gibson missed his second free throw attempt. The ball then took an awkward bounce off the rim, slipped past Anderson and into the hands of Deng. He then distributed the ball to Derrick Rose, who was fouled with 9.9 seconds remaining.
Rose then proceeded to make it a four-point contest, which was ultimately too big of a gap for Orlando to close.
“Usually that’s something I don’t slipup on and so that’s frustrating, especially when it was Luol Deng,” said Anderson, who was still visibly shaken. “That’s a guy I could’ve gotten a rebound over, so that’s frustrating to me.”
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