Denton: Magic-Thunder Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
February 25, 2011


ORLANDO – In the hours before Friday night’s game at Amway Center, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard opined that the Oklahoma City Thunder are legitimate threats to win an NBA championship now after trading for defensive-minded center Kendrick Perkins.

Considering how Howard systematically destroyed one of the NBA’s best teams Friday night, Perkins – a long-time Magic nemesis -- can’t get healthy and to Oklahoma City fast enough.

Two days after imploring his teammates to do less talking and more hustling on the court, Howard went out and took care of business on his own with an effort that is becoming commonplace. Howard had his fourth straight 30-point game with 40 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in Orlando’s bounce-back 111-88 defeat of Oklahoma City on Friday night.

And this time for a change – certainly a change from Wednesday’s ugly home loss to Sacramento – Howard got some help from his teammates. Jason Richardson helped sling-shot the Magic out of their team-wide shooting slump with 17 points and five 3-points. J.J. Redick had another two 3-pointers and 16 points, Jammer Nelson scored 14 points and Hedo Turkoglu dished out 10 assists.

``We talked about sacrifice and being willing to play this way for 48 minutes, and for the most part we did that,’’ Howard said after his latest masterpiece. ``We’ve got to be consistent every night. I’m just trying to stay focused on what my team needs me to do as a leader. I still think there are a lot of things that I can do better.’’

Howard’s all-around performance was the first of its kind in the NBA in two seasons. Coincidentally, he was also the last player with a 40-15-6 game, battering Charlotte with 45 points, 19 rebounds and eight blocks in February of 2009. No other player has put up those kinds of numbers since 1999.

``The guy is playing as well as anybody in the league right now hands down,’’ Redick said. ``It’s just up to the rest of us to match that and play well, too.’’

Losers to the 14-win Kings on Wednesday, the Magic (37-22) came out determined to play better on Friday, and it showed on both ends of the floor. Orlando held the high-scoring Thunder to 88 points and 33.3 percent shooting. They kept OKC out of the lane (just 26 points in the paint), kept them from running (12 fast-break points) and they loaded up on all-stars Kevin Durant (23 points) and Russell Westbrook (18 points).

It was a dramatically different game than six weeks ago when Oklahoma City scored 125 points on the Magic, including 36 from Durant and a triple-double from Westbrook.

``We came out and did everything that we’re supposed to do and we played good defense,’’ Richardson said. ``I think the Sacramento game was one of those games coming off the All-star break, we looked at their record and we weren’t ready to play,’’ Richardson said. ``We have to come out ready to play every night like (Friday). We have to take what Dwight said and step up to the plate every night.’’

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from Friday’s nationally televised game from the Amway Center:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Howard was at his efficient best inside the Perkins-less Thunder, making 16 of 20 shots. OKC tried Serge Ibaka, Nick Coillison, Cole Aldrich and even Durant for a brief stretch against Howard – all to no avail.

    He tied his season high with the 40 points and extended his career-best streak of 30-point games to four. It’s the 11th time this season that he’s scored at least 30 points.

    ``Dwight understands that talk is great, but the bottom line is what you do out there on the court,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``You do what he is doing right now it’s a very positive thing when he speaks up. If he had gone out there and gotten 12 points, four rebounds and one block there might have been some questions. But to get 40, 15 and six, that’s the most important thing of all right there.’’

    In the past four games – two before the all-star break and two after – Howard has made 78 percent of his free throws (32 of 41) and 75 percent of his field goals (51 of 68).

  • A coach can’t show much more faith in a player than throwing him out on the floor to guard Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer at 28.8 points per game. That responsibility fell on the shoulders of second-year power forward Earl Clark, who is proving himself to be more than a throw-in piece in the Dec. 18 trade with the Phoenix Suns.

    Van Gundy likes Clark because of his quickness and length and figured he might have a chance of contesting shots against the 6-foot-11 Durant. The superstar small forward missed 15 of his 22 shots – some of them with Clark guarding him – on a subpar night.

    ``We have enough scorers and a dominant big man, but I figure if I can make the man in front of me take two or three dribbles then Dwight will be there for the block,’’ Clark said. ``You have to play (defense) with confidence. If you don’t play with confidence they are going to give you 40 (points).’’

  • Taken apart defensively most recently against Sacramento on Wednesday and six weeks ago in Oklahoma City, the Magic came out with an edge in the first half Friday night.

    The result was Orlando holding the Thunder to 15 of 41 shooting in the first half. The Magic’s defense was so good that OKC – the NBA’s leading free throw shooting team – made just 12 of 17 tries from the stripe in the first half. (Just kidding!!!)

    WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Clearly frustrated at the numerous hard whacks he took early in the game, Howard swung his arm back and grazed the face of Nick Collison in the second quarter. Referee Monty McCutchen whistled Howard for a technical foul, giving him 15 for the season.

    The Magic’s superstar center is now one technical foul away from facing a NBA-mandated one-game suspension. Players are subject to a one-game suspension and a $5,000 fine after picking up the 16th technical foul.

    Howard has gotten 15 technical fouls each of the past two seasons and has been able to avoid a suspension. He will have to go 23 regular-season games without a technical foul – something he hasn’t been able to do all season – to avoid a suspension this time around. The technical foul count starts over in the playoffs.

    Howard has had four technical fouls rescinded this season. The NBA’s league office will review Friday night’s technical and it could be wiped out as well if it was determined that Howard didn’t intentionally flail his arm at Collison.

  • Embattled Magic point guard Gilbert Arenas had another bizarre shooting night, missing nine of his 11 attempts and all three of his tries from 3-point range. He did convert a nifty layup just before the first-half buzzer as he was whacked across the face by Westbrook.

    In his past 12 games, he’s made just three of 38 3-pointer. He hasn’t made a 3-pointer in six straight games and he’s now missed 18 consecutive shots from beyond the arch – a streak that dates back to the fourth quarter of the Feb. 8 defeat of the L.A. Clippers.

    FINAL OBSERVATIONS

  • Line of the night from Redick, who is still bothered by the up-and-down nature of the Magic: ``We’re a pretty manic-depressive team right now. It’s why when we lose games like the other night we’re all so down. We know what we’re capable of doing when we play well and that just kind of makes it frustrating.’’

  • Van Gundy followed through on his promise to play power forward Clark, inserting him midway through the first quarter. Clark, already a fan favorite of sorts because of his high energy, was greeted with cheers upon checking into the game.

    The 6-foot-10 Clark even shifted to center in place of Howard to start the second period. The Magic had a lineup of Gilbert Arenas, J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson and Clark on the floor for one stretch. And late in the first half, Van Gundy actually sacrificed using a power forward and used Quentin Richardson to guard Durant.

  • In addition to Friday’s normal telecast, ESPN also broadcast the game in 3-D. Such a process requires two sets of cameras and two 18-wheeler production trucks.

    Three-dimensional televisions were showing the game in Amway Center’s Mercedes Lounge. Viewers had to wear the 3-D glasses and the broadcast proved to be a big hit with several fans.

  • Orlando natives and NFL standouts Chris Johnson and Mike Sims-Walker sat courtside at Friday night’s game. Johnson is a record-setting tailback for the Tennessee Titans, while Sims-Walker has shown flashes as an elite receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

  • John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.