Denton's Dish: Magic vs. Lakers (1/20/12)
By John Denton
January 20, 2012
ORLANDO – Grabbed around the shoulders and nearly pulled to the ground by a flailing Josh McRoberts, Orlando Magic superstar Dwight Howard collected himself and then proceeded to twirl his index finger in the air.
Howard’s message to his teammates was clear: Run the same play over and over again until the Los Angeles Lakers’ shaky frontline proved it could stop it.
The Magic followed Howard’s orders Friday night, running their offense through the all-star center to the tune of 21 points and 23 rebounds in a 92-80 whipping of the Lakers at a sold-out Amway Center.
And unlike Los Angeles superstar Kobe Bryant, who had a clear case for nonsupport, Howard got a big assist from his Magic teammates in the thorough beating of the Lakers. All five starters for Orlando (11-4) scored in double figures, led by Jameer Nelson’s much-improved play with 17 points and nine assists. But it was Howard, who dominated his matchup against Andrew Bynum and smashed others inside, who drove the Magic to one of their most impressive victories of the season.
``When the Lakers chose to play Dwight one-on-one, they just really couldn’t stop him,’’ said Magic guard J.J. Redick, who had 15 points, six assists and three 3-pointers. ``He kind of had his way inside with both (Andrew) Bynum and (Pau) Gasol.’’
The Magic led by 12 after one period, by as much as 23 in the second quarter and were never seriously threatened in the second half as the lead never dropped below eight points. Orlando’s defense limited the Lakers to 38.2 percent shooting and players other than Bryant (30 points) made just 18 of 54 shots.
``I think we came out and were aggressive from the beginning of the game,’’ said Howard, who played 45 more minutes and dominated on both ends. ``We ran and did a good job with our defensive assignments and got a good win.’’
The Magic, who just played their fourth game in five nights, will be off on Saturday. They will practice in Orlando on Sunday before flying to Boston for Monday night’s game against the slumping Celtics.
Ryan Anderson scored 13 points and made three 3-pointers, while Jason Richardson had 12 points and two 3-pointers in his first game back after missing three games with a sprained knee. In all, the Magic made 12 3-pointers and held a 51-42 edge on the boards thanks to the play of Howard. He has a whopping 98 rebounds in his past five games.
``He’s the best rebounder in the game and he has been since I’ve been here,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``He just goes up and gets it and gets the ones that you really need to have. He’s the best that there is on the glass.’’
Here’s a closer look at some of the key moments from Friday night’s game:
- Magic President of Basketball Operations/GM Otis Smith said earlier in the day that he thought some of Nelson’s troubles this season were because of the constant talk of the Magic needing to upgrade at point guard. Smith said that Howard’s flirtations with Deron Williams and briefly with Chris Paul damaged Nelson’s psyche and played a role in his declining play.
While he refused to make excuses, Nelson admitted he’s ``only human.’’
``I’m here to play basketball and I can’t worry about what anybody says. I’m here because I’m a winner and they want me here. I know if they didn’t want me, I wouldn’t be here,’’ Nelson said. ``I’m human and a lot of things affect you. We’re basketball players, but we’re also human. A lot of the stuff that came out about other point guards being here was basically months ago, so if I was hurt, I’m over it. I can’t allow myself to not be focused.’’
- Much was made in past days of TNT analyst and former Magic/Lakers great Shaquille O’Neal saying that Bynum was the better center when compared to Howard. After Friday’s demolition – it was Howard’s 37th career 20-point, 20-rebound game compared to one for Bynum in seven seasons – Shaq might want to rethink his utterly absurd comment.
Howard actually had an off night shooting the ball, making only six of 14 shots. He got to the free throw line 17 times, grabbed four offensive boards and handed out two assists.
``It wasn’t about Dwight Howard night or Andrew Bynum night; it was about the Magic and the Lakers,’’ Howard said. ``The only thing on my mind was getting the win.
There’s no need to go back and forth about me and him. We play the game different ways, but we both have the objective to win. He’s won two rings and I’m trying to get mine. I try to lead by example by going out every night and giving 100 percent.’’
- The Lakers actually led 2-0 at the start of the game, but the rest of the first half belonged to the Magic, who were up 48-31 at intermission. Orlando led 22-10 after one period when Howard got Bynum in early foul trouble and the Magic had their offense rolling on several accounts.
Orlando led as much as 23 points in the second quarter thanks to the strong play from Howard and Nelson early in the game. Howard made only two of his six shots early on, but he converted six of eight free throws. He had a double-double by the midpoint of the second period and finished the first half with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
Nelson, who got a vote of confidence earlier in the day from President of Basketball Operations/GM Otis Smith, was aggressively seeking out shots in the first half. Two nights after making just two of 16 shots against San Antonio, Nelson hit two 3-pointers and drilled four of six shots in the first half.
- You might have missed it if you blinked, but Howard actually took a couple of plays off Friday night where he didn’t give maximum effort, Van Gundy said. There was the time Gasol (13 points and 10 rebounds) caught a lob over Howard and another time when the Magic center didn’t challenge a layup by L.A. rookie guard Darius Morris, clearly showing his fatigue.
But the fatigue was understandable considering that Howard played another 45 minutes on Friday and was on the court for a staggering 165 minutes in the Magic’s stretch of four games in five nights.
Van Gundy said he wanted to get Howard some rest in the second quarter, but the center was simply rolling too good and the team played better with him on the floor.
``Dwight is sort of like a security blanket for me, and it just feels good when he’s in there,’’ Van Gundy joked. ``I just feel like our chances are better when he’s out there. I don’t know why … maybe it’s the 25 rebounds. Sometimes I don’t give him enough rest. I was going off him getting a day off (Thursday) and a day off (Saturday), so let’s get a good workout out of him (Friday).’’
- The Howard-Bynum matchup quickly fizzled out in the first half when the Lakers’ 7-footer picked up two quick fouls while trying to guard the attacking Howard.
Orlando’s superstar center had two left-handed hook shots over Bynum in the first few minutes, and Bynum went to bench after just five minutes after picking up his second foul. Howard had six points and six rebounds in the first quarter, while Bynum missed both of his shot attempts early on.
- Howard was once again pressed about his future in Orlando by writers who cover the Lakers – one of three teams on his list of teams he would prefer to be traded to. Howard reiterated his stance that a trade is the farthest thing from his mind as he tries to lead the Magic to the franchise’s first NBA championship this season.
``Right now, I’m in Orlando and the only thing that matters is being here and winning here,’’ said Howard, who denied that Bryant had tried recruiting him to L.A. ``That’s my only objective. Despite everything that goes on outside the court, I’m just going to go out every night to do my job to help my team win. That’s the only thing I’m concerned with and I don’t care about the trade talks. We’ll cross that bridge when it’s time, but right now I’m with the Magic and I want to give this city, our fans and my team 100 percent every night.’’
- The once-mighty Lakers actually ended the first quarter with Josh McRoberts, Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Metta World Peace and Gasol on the floor. Not surprisingly, they trailed 22-10 after one period.
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