Denton's Dish: Magic at Nets (2/22/12)
By John Denton
February 22, 2012
NEWARK, NJ – Dominant in a demolition of the New Jersey Nets and humbled by the attention he received from adoring fans waving cardboard cutouts of his smiling mug, Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard had two other things on his mind late Wednesday: Making ``Liggin-sanity’’ T-shirts in honor of rookie DeAndre Liggins and beating the Hawks out of the area and to Atlanta before Thursday’s game.
What Howard had no interest in discussing however, was anything to do with his future beyond the game Thursday’s against the Hawks.
Following a 20-point, 17-rebound, two-block destruction of the Nets in Orlando’s 108-91 victory, Howard talked primarily about helping the Magic play better in the second half season and craft a playoff run where they can contend for a championship.
``We’re in a good position right now and we’ve won six out of seven and we just have to keep the momentum going into the all-star break,’’ Howard said. ``We have to come back and have a better second half (of the season) than we had a first half. That’s the talk around the locker room, `Having a great second half of the season and making a push toward a championship.’’’
Howard demanded a trade before the season, and one of the team on his wish list was the Nets because of the lure of playing in the New York market when the franchise moves to Brooklyn next season. That was enough to excite fans of the woeful Nets (10-25), who broke into several half-hearted ``We want Dwight’’ chants throughout the lopsided game. One fan sitting across from the Magic bench also toyed with a cutout of Howard’s likeness.
``It’s a humbling experience. I wish more people could see how it feels to go into another arena and have big faces and posters of you. It’s a blessing,’’ he said. ``It feels good to have a great reception, not only here but everywhere I go. It’s humbling and I really appreciate it.’’
The Magic (22-12) set a season high for assists with 32, shot 53.6 percent and drilled 13 3-pointers to go with Howard’s muscle inside. The Magic placed all five starters and seven players total in double figures. Glen ``big Baby’’ Davis made his first seven shots and scored 16, while Ryan Anderson added 14 points and nine rebounds (seven offensive) against his former team.
``When we move the ball like that it usually means we’re playing great basketball,’’ Anderson said. ``When we win games and win by big margins it’s because everybody is active and aggressive. We played great team basketball.’’
New Jersey all-star point guard Deron Williams, who torched New York for eight 3-pointers and 38 points two nights earlier, had 23 points, eight assists and six rebounds. But afterward all he wanted to talk about was praise directed at Howard, his close friend.
``He’s definitely worked on his game. He has a nice jumper and he’s added some post moves in there,’’ Williams said. ``If he worked on his free throws he’d average 40 (points a game).’’
- Howard put on a clinic on how to play in the low post, passing the ball out to open shooters when the Nets dared to double-team him and punishing them inside when they left him single-covered against Brook Lopez, Johan Petro or Shelden Williams.
Howard made nine of 13 shots with four of the baskets coming on thunderous dunks. He also tied a season high with the four assists.
``It’s important for me to get my teammates involved early and throughout the game because it makes it easier for myself,’’ Howard said. ``I was just trying to read the defense and find the open guy. We got a good win.’’
- The Magic thoroughly dominated the first half and held a 58-41 lead at intermission. Orlando shot 55.3 percent from the floor, made six 3-pointers and led by as many as 22 points.
How good was the Magic’s ball movement early in the game? They had 19 assists on their 26 field goals in the first half. Nine players scored, six had at least five points and nine players had an assist in the first 24 minutes.
``We were moving the ball really well, playing the game the right way and looking for one another out there,’’ said Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, who had 10 points, seven assists and just one turnover in 28 minutes. ``The way we played showed in the way we moved the ball. That’s why we got contributions from a lot of people.’’
- Sitting dejectedly in the locker room on Sunday, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis said that his season had nowhere to go but up after struggling most of the past two months with his new team.
Davis was correct as he’s responded with three strong games since the death of his father, John Greer.
After scoring 12 points against both Miami and Milwaukee, Davis had 14 points by halftime on Wednesday. He made his first seven shots by getting jumpers within his comfort zone and by repeatedly getting to the rim for layups. Ironically, the only shot he missed in the first half was a free throw – after making 10 in a row the previous three games.
- With the Magic officially entering the second half of the season on Wednesday – it was the 34th game of a 66-game lockout season – Van Gundy was asked what his team has done well and what needed to improve the rest of the way.
``Well,’’ Van Gundy said before the game, ``we’ve won 21 games.’’
As far as areas of improvement, Van Gundy said the Magic’s defense must improve if they are going to be taken seriously as contenders in the Eastern Conference. That rang true again Wednesday as Nets guards Deron Williams and MarShon Brooks riddled the Magic with dribble penetration much of the night. Williams, an all-star for a third time, did as he pleased in the third quarter with 12 points, three 3-pointers and three assists.
Despite the easy, breezy win, Van Gundy was not happy after the game because of the lackluster effort defensively.
``I thought we played well on both ends of the floor in the first half,’’ Van Gundy said. ``In the second half we were just good offensively. We were just content to play offense. We’re capable of defending but we decide when we have to and when we don’t. That’s not a good habit to get into, but that’s where we are.’’
- Known primarily as the NBA’s best 3-point shooter, Anderson showed again Wednesday that he also has a nose for the ball on the offensive glass.
He entered the game ranked seventh in the league in offensive rebounds and he helped himself with another strong showing on the glass. Seven of his nine rebounds were on the offensive boards, allowing him to keep alive several possessions. The effort allowed him to contribute on a night when he made just five of 15 shots and only two of six 3-pointers.
``The effort plays are something that I can control,’’ Anderson said. ``Those shots I missed are ones I need to take my time on. But I can control my effort and energy. I want to always bring something on the court because shots aren’t going to be falling every night.’’
- Magic rookie DeAndre Liggins, who made his NBA debut on Monday in Milwaukee, had a career high five points by twice getting to the rim for layups. The quiet, hard-working Liggins is a favorite in the Magic locker room, and Howard and Nelson are jokingly pushing to make ``Liggin-sanity’’ T-shirts to wear as the talented small forward continues to blossom.
- A positive for Howard: For a seventh time this season he recorded four assists, showing his marked improvement as a passer out of the post. Most of the assists resulted in 3-pointers, making the Nets pay for sinking in defensively.
Now the negative: Howard made just two of 10 free throws with seven of the misfires coming in the second half. New Jersey even attempted the Hack-A-Howard once with 5 minutes to play, but Howard made one of two free throws.
Howard, a career 59 percent free throw shooter, finally over got over 50 percent from the foul line last Friday against Milwaukee. In games against Milwaukee on Friday and Monday, Howard made 10 of 14 tries from the stripe. But against Miami on Sunday and against New Jersey on Sunday Howard made just two of 10.
Afterward, Howard didn’t want to talk free throws or a potential future with the Nets. He was pushing his teammates to dress quickly so that they could get to Atlanta before the Hawks, which lost Wednesday night in New York.
``Right now my only concern is winning games (with the Magic) and playing as hard as I can every night,’’ Howard said. ``That’s the only thing that I can control. I put all of the other thoughts aside and focus on one thing. The only thing I can control is what I do on the court.’’
- Van Gundy takes pride in voraciously studying the other team’s game plan and he predicted early Wednesday morning that the Nets would go to Brook Lopez early in the game in an attempt to get Howard in foul trouble.
Of course, that’s just the plan of attack that New Jersey took right away. The Nets went into Lopez early and Howard picked up his first foul 20 seconds into the game. Howard’s second foul came with 4 minutes left in the first period, sending him to the bench.
But Howard picked up on the strategy and wisely backed off some defensively to avoid foul trouble. He twice passed up block attempts on Shelden Williams and Petro layups to avoid picking up a third foul.
``We’re playing great basketball right now and we’ve just got to keep it up, stay humble and stay focused,’’ Howard said. ``We have to continue to push. We’re in a good position and we don’t want to lose that position heading into the playoffs.’’
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org
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