Denton's Dish: Magic vs. Nets (3/16/12)
By John Denton
March 16, 2012
ORLANDO – A night after Dwight Howard showed the City of Orlando and the only NBA franchise he’s ever played for some love by waiving the opt-out clause in his contract the fans inside the Amway Center returned the favor.
When Howard’s name was announced in the pregame introductions, the sellout crowd inside the Amway Center throbbed with emotion and roared with noise unlike at any point this season. Then, Howard went out and authored a workmanlike 18-point, six-rebound performance that lifted the Orlando Magic past the New Jersey Nets 86-70 and kept the cheers going long into the night.
Maybe it was only fitting that the Nets were across the way a night after Howard promised to remain in Orlando at least through next season. Had Howard been in New Jersey red instead of Magic blue as the Nets were desperately attempting to trade for him, the game could have taken on an entirely different tone.
As much as this night was about the Magic (29-16) winning for a fourth time in the past five games, it was more a celebration of the franchise’s six-time all-star and his commitment to Orlando. And Howard took notice, sensing a different vibe in the building and putting what he called a little extra ``ommph’’ into his pregame dance with his teammates.
``It was great. I just want to thank all of the fans that stuck with me through this time and showed me their love,’’ Howard said after making eight of 10 shots. ``It was great to see it. But we needed this game and my whole thing was coming out and playing the right way and getting another win.’’
Almost to a man, the players inside the Magic locker room expressed a relief that their team remained intact. A cloud of uncertainty has hovered over the Magic for months since Howard issued a trade request back in December. With the team certain of sticking together through the rest of this season, the Magic have now turned their hopes to putting together a strong closing kick and ultimately making a deep playoff run.
``I could sense it and the fans could sense it and it was nice the way they congratulated Dwight and chanted his name,’’ said Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, who played his finest game in weeks with 13 points and five rebounds. ``Everybody feels at peace now. The organization did a good job and Dwight did a good job of following his heart. He believed in this team and we believed in him.’’
Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson also had 13 points and added six assists and four rebounds. Howard’s closest friend on the team much of the past eight seasons together, Nelson hoped that the lifting of the distractions would help the Magic thrive down the stretch.
``Early on it did feel different because we didn’t know what to expect with the crowd so excited, but it was a great ovation for Dwight,’’ Nelson said. ``Over the last few weeks and last few months it’s been hectic for him and whatever he said people were going to say good and bad things about him. But the only people who matter are in this organization, the people in this locker room and our fans.
``It’s only human nature that (the trade talk) probably bothered certain guys more than others, but at the same time we were still winning games and playing hard,’’ Nelson continued. ``I just told (Howard) congratulations. I just tried to talk to him about things that wasn’t involved in the situations and be an outlet for him.’’
Ryan Anderson scored 12 points, while Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson each added 10 points. The magic shot 50.7 percent and limited the woeful Nets (15-30) to just 33.7 percent shooting.
Here is a look at the key moments from Friday’s game at the Amway Center:
- Playing with an extra bounce in his step and clearly riding the emotion in the building, Howard was locked in from the very start of the game.
Hitting hook shots and converting dunks, Howard made his first five shots much to the delight of the fawning crowd. The crowd exploded with noise early in the game when Howard spun and dunked on his first touch in the low post.
His 10 points in the first quarter were four more than New Jersey’s starting five in the opening period.
The Nets often double-teamed after Howard’s fast start. But he still found other ways to contribute. He passed out of traps twice for assists and blocked three shots – most notably swatting a Kris Humphries dunk attempt in the first quarter.
Howard took notice of many of the signs fans in the crowd were holding up, and many of them mentioned the word Howard stressed throughout his Thursday news conference -- ``Believe.’’
``That has to be the message every night,’’ Howard said, referring to the belief that Orlando can win a championship. ``It’s going to take everybody in Orlando to believe. If you are a Magic fan you have to show it every night. We believe we can win and everybody has to feel the same way. That’s the message, we’ve got to believe.’’
- Nelson admitted earlier in the season that he was affected by various rumors about the Magic possibly looking to trade for another point guard. So understandably no one in the Magic locker room is happier to see the NBA trade deadline come and go than Nelson.
The veteran point guard has played some of his best basketball of the season of late, scoring 25 points against both the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. And Friday night was no different as he was in attack mode early in the game and controlled the action with his drives into the lane.
Nelson ended the first half with a deep 3-pointer to put the Magic up 46-36. Nelson did as he wanted in the first half with eight points, four assists and three rebounds early on.
``I’m just being a lot more aggressive and not worrying about deferring so much,’’ Nelson said. ``It’s my job to get guys going and stay in attack mode. I’m a scorer and I can do that to help this team.’’
- Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has said for the past two weeks the areas where the team must improve before the playoffs are defense and taking care of the ball.
On Friday, the Magic held the short-handed Nets to just 70 points. But what upset Van Gundy the most was that New Jersey scored 22 of its points on Orlando’s 20 turnovers. Nelson and Turkoglu had four each, while Davis kicked the ball away three times and had a behind-the-back pass roll out of bounds.
``The only thing I was unhappy with was the 20 turnovers, and again a lot of them were just mindless,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We just don’t value the ball very much. We just throw it around and don’t really think that it matters. That’s going to be a huge problem (in the playoffs). You’re not going to win a playoff series like that, you’re just not.’’
- Davis had one of his better stretches in the first half, making four of five shots and scoring nine points. Davis converted a nifty layup on the fastbreak as he was undercut by Kris Humphries. And when he grabbed an airball and dunked it with authority, several Magic players came up off the bench in celebration.
- Playing without starters Deron Williams (calf strain) and Brook Lopez (sprained ankle), New Jersey got very little production from its starting five early in the game.
The starters combined for six points in the first quarter and scored just one point in the second quarter.
Former Magic shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, now a member of the Nets, had the highlight of the game near the end of the third quarter. Stevenson was attempting to throw a half-court alley-oop pass to Jordan Williams, but the pass ended up going through the hoop for a 3-pointer. Shaking his head as he ran back up the court, Stevenson made the same three-fingered salute he normally makes upon hitting a 3-pointer.
- A fan sitting near the Nets’ bench on Friday night held up a poster that read, ``99 problems and Dwight ain’t one.’’ What makes the sign exceptionally clever is the slogan comes from a rap song by Jay-Z, a minority owner of the Nets, a franchise that hoped to land Howard in a trade on Thursday.
- Iconic Magic owner Rich DeVos and Chairman Dan DeVos attended the game and made appearances in the locker room after the game to once again congratulate Howard on following his heart and making the decision he felt most at peace with.
Howard spoke after the game about how much he appreciated the support that the DeVos provided him during what was a hectic time in his life.
``I’ve been talking to the family for the last couple weeks about how we can make this a better place. Not just for the team, but for everybody in Orlando,’’ Howard said.
``That’s what our goal is. We talked this summer of some of my goals for Orlando and how we can all work together. I wanted to meet with them again and they’re on board. It’s a great situation for all of us.’’
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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