Denton: Magic-Lakers Postgame Analysis
By John Denton
February 13, 2011
ORLANDO -- Almost to a man, the Orlando Magic stressed that this showdown against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers was about proving something to themselves as much as it was proving something to the rest of the basketball world.
Winless over the last eight games against teams with winning records, the Magic played Sunday with an edge and a purpose of a team on a mission to prove a point. They needed a reminder once again that they are still members of the NBA’s upper crust, and they then went out on Sunday afternoon determined to display just that.
And when Orlando’s 89-75 destruction of the Lakers was complete, it had a definitive reminder of all that’s possible on a team powered by indestructible center Dwight Howard and plenty of firepower throughout.
``We hadn’t played well against some of the top teams like Boston, Miami and Chicago, and the way we played today, this is the way that we’re supposed to play every night,’’ said Magic guard Jason Richardson, who scored 12 points and kept Kobe Bryant off the free throw line for the first time in a year. ``This was just one of those nights when it seemed like guys said, `Enough is enough.’ We got it back on track and now we have to keep playing like this.’’
Howard did plenty of talking with his Most Valuable Player-caliber play on Sunday, smashing the Lakers’ big frontline to the tune of 31 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. He made 13 of 16 shots, including a perfect nine of nine in the second half as the Magic (35-21) put L.A. (38-17) away in the fourth period.
Not long after getting a gash under his right eye taped up with butterfly bandages, Howard was already looking at Sunday’s result as something more than a singular event. This, Howard stressed, is what is possible from a Magic team that has wobbled at times this season against the NBA’s best teams.
``The way we played (Sunday) is the way we have to play every night if we want to be considered a great team. If we continue to do that there’s no doubt in my mind that we have what it takes to win a championship,’’ Howard said.
Howard and Richardson were the Magic’s only double-digit scorers, but they still got big contributions throughout the roster. All nine Magic players had at least two field goals. And the combination of Hedo Turkoglu and Richardson held Bryant to just 17 points on eight of 18 points. And in total, Orlando’s defense allowed L.A. to shoot just 39.3 percent and score a season-low 75 points.
``We put a lot into that game and I thought our individual defense was the best it’s been all year,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``There really was not a bad stretch for us today. And that’s what it’s going to take against quality teams. I think that game shows us at least who we can be. Now, you have to get a consistency with that type of effort and intensity.’’
Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from arguably the Magic’s best win of the season:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Not only did Howard score at will throughout the game with a variety of hook shots with both his left and right hands, he put his stamp on the game several times with his ability to out-jump others for rebounds and lob passes for dunks.
With the Magic up 67-60 heading into the fourth period, Howard made a face-up bank shot and then a driving hook shot that all but put the Lakers out of it for good.
And not long after Howard soared over Gasol in dazzling fashion, swatted a Lamar Odom shot out of bounds and sank two free throws to put Orlando up 86-71 did Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson pull Bryant from the game.
``I want every game. And like I said, we have to be consistent, the whole team, if we want to compete for a title,’’ Howard said. ``We played like a team that wanted to win. We have to do that every night.’’
Richardson stayed down on Bryant’s fakes and didn’t reach in, and that resulted in Bryant not getting to the free throw line in a game for the first time March 24, 2010 against the San Antonio Spurs.
``(Past experience) helped me out a lot,’’ Richardson said. ``Most of the time (in the past) he got the best of me. There were big games where he got 40 and 50 points on me. This was one of those things where I played him tough and limited him getting to the free throw line. I tried to just make him work really hard for it. He made some huge shots on me, but I think I did a pretty good job tonight.’’
Said Bryant: I was too far from the basket and tried to facilitate too much. There weren’t too many free throws on our part so the game didn’t slow down. I should have been a little more aggressive getting to the post a little bit more.’’
Brandon Bass returned from being out two weeks with an ankle injury and contributed six points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes. Bass showed great explosion off the tender ankle with a dunk in the third quarter and he added two baskets in the fourth period.
``I was moving pretty good out there, but it was a little sore,’’ Bass said. ``It was the normal feelings after coming back from a sprained ankle making some cuts. But overall, it felt pretty good.’’
Gilbert Arenas played energized with four points, four rebounds and three assists. Earl Clark provided depth along the frontline when Howard picked up three first-half fouls, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds. And J.J. Redick added six points, four assists, three rebounds and a 3-pointer.
``For us this game was about the big-picture confidence back because we had struggled recently with some of the better teams,’’ Redick said. ``We struggled to win those games because we were in every game. This was a needed win and 48 minutes of good basketball. We really buckled down today.’’
WHAT WENT WRONG
He was hit by a Lamar Odom elbow late in the fourth quarter, and Howard and Van Gundy were irate with referee Dan Crawford that there was no foul called on the play.
The Lakers gave the Magic fits early in the game on the boards and things looked somewhat bleak in the second quarter when Howard picked up his third foul just before intermission. But Howard was able to play through the foul trouble. Afterwards, Phil Jackson was irate with the Lakers’ effort and Andrew Bynum (17 points and nine rebounds) was upset that his team didn’t go at the Magic center more.
``Well, I told the players since they took part of the day off on (Sunday) maybe tomorrow we can get after it in Charlotte and redeem ourselves against them,’’ Jackson fumed.
The Lakers came into Orlando having already won in New Orleans, Boston and New York. After Sunday’s loss, the Lakers play in Charlotte on Monday and in Cleveland on Wednesday to wrap up the seven-game roadtrip.
Bryant had nice things to say about the Amway Center upon his first visit here. ``This is a great facility,’’ Bryant said, ``maybe the best in the league.’’
First, Magic reserves Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson alerted assistant coach Steve Clifford that Derek Fisher’s left foot was on the line on a shot initially called a 3-pointer midway through the third quarter. At the next stop in play, Clifford asked referee Dan Crawford to review the play. Sure enough, replays showed Fisher’s foot on the line and the shot was dropped to a 2-pointer.
Then, on the final play of the third quarter, replays showed that Howard got off a dunk just before the buzzer off a wild feed from Gilbert Arenas. The funny thing is that replays clearly showed Arenas’ foot out of bounds before he heaved the pass/shot toward the rim, but that is not reviewable under NBA rules. Remarkably, Arenas was credited with an assist on the play.
Joked Howard: ``That was a shot, not a pass. I just tried to be in the right place for it.’’