Denton: Successful West Coast Trip

By John Denton
January 13, 2012

ORLANDO – A West Coast roadtrip that started with Dwight Howard in foul trouble and ended with him predominantly at the foul line couldn’t have gone much better for the suddenly surging Orlando Magic.

There was a bizarre win, a signature win and a historic win for the Magic, resulting in an impressive 3-0 run away from home.

An afternoon road game in New York on Monday remains, but the Magic (8-3) have already made a bold statement on their first extended trip of the season. They proved on this trip that they have plenty of weapons, plenty of fight and plenty of Howard to throw at foes, and the results so far have been quite impressive.

``Any time you go on the road and go undefeated that’s something that you can really be proud of. It’s great for our team and great for the morale of this team,’’ Magic shooting guard Jason Richardson said. ``I don’t care if you are playing the best teams or the worst teams we’ll take a 3-0 roadtrip and be very happy with it.’’

Orlando won in Sacramento last Sunday with Howard mostly saddled on the bench, it won in Portland after having a refreshing two-day break and it won Thursday night in Oakland against Golden State as the Warriors took their best whacks at the five-time all-star center.

In battering the Warriors, Howard went to the free throw line a whopping 39 times to shatter Wilt Chamberlain’s 50-year-old NBA record of 34 attempts. Those free throw forays allowed Howard to post the first 40/20 game of his career with 45 points and 23 rebounds in a 117-109 victory to complete the 3-0 trip.

Howard took a break from the talk of the record and his admiration of Chamberlain to summarize the state of the Magic following the eventful, yet flawless 3-0 trip.

``It means a lot to go 3-0. It’s still early in the season, but what I’m seeing from this team is that we’re staying together regardless of what’s going on outside around us,’’ Howard said, partially referring to the trade rumors that continue to swirl around him. ``Even if we’re losing in game we find a way to stay together and stay in it. Me and Jameer are trying to do a better job of leading the guys and so far we’re all doing a good job. We’ve just got to keep it up.’’

The Magic will have to keep it up in what will be one of the most grueling stretches of the season. After arriving back in Orlando from the West Coast at 7 a.m. the Magic took off Friday. They will practice Saturday and Sunday before facing the Knicks on Monday.

The game in New York begins a stretch of thee games in as many days – a schedule quirk brought on by the NBA’s lockout. Orlando hosts Charlotte on Tuesday and San Antonio on Wednesday. Then, after a day off, Orlando plays the Los Angeles Lakers at the Amway Center in a nationally televised game.

Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said he was particularly pleased with his team’s trip and its progress so far in dealing with the challenging schedule and arduous travel. Van Gundy thought his Magic showed some mental toughness by fighting through a flat first quarter Thursday in Golden State and gutting out the victory in a back-and-forth fourth quarter.

``(Going undefeated) is something that’s great to do,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We were on a back-to-back and we decided early in the year that if we were going to use back-to-backs as an excuse it was going to be difficult for us to have a very good record. But we’re 3-1 now this season on back-to-backs, and I can say that had some very good moments in every one of the games on this trip.’’

In Sacramento, the good moments came courtesy of Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis (20 points, eight rebounds and five offensive boards), Ryan Anderson (19 points, 11 rebounds and six offensive boards) and Jason Richardson (22 points), who carried Orlando through a game where Howard played just 19 minutes. Van Gundy marveled at the grit of a Magic team that won despite shooting just 42 percent while the Kings hit 52 percent of their shots, but couldn’t keep pace.

Orlando got to Portland on Sunday night, and some of the Magic’s players grumbled about the schedule that had them in the cold and cloudy Oregon city for the better part of four nights.

But that uneasiness was put to rest with the way that the Magic stroked the ball against Portland. Orlando made 14 of its first 21 3-point shots, finished with 16 triples and 25 assists on their 41 baskets. That helped the Magic build a 23-point lead, but it eventually shrank to three points before fourth-quarter specialist Hedo Turkoglu took over with two huge buckets to save the Orlando victory.

The victory allowed Orlando to end Portland’s unbeaten run at home. And it gave the Magic their first win of the season against a team that made the playoffs last season after losing previously to Oklahoma City and Chicago. Magic guard J.J. Redick, Orlando’s steadiest reserve, called it ``a signature win for us.’’

Thursday’s nationally televised game against Golden State bordered on the absurd at times because of the tactics that the short-handed Warriors resorted to. Playing without Kwame Brown and with Andris Biedrins in foul trouble, Golden State fouled Howard without the ball and almost every time he got the ball near the rim. Van Gundy even joked during one timeout that it was a waste to diagram plays in huddles because the Warriors were simply intent on fouling.

As a result, Howard attempted eight free throws in the first quarter (with three makes), got to the line 10 times in the second period (with six makes), had another 10 attempts in the third quarter (with four makes) and capped the game with a strong finish by making eight of 11 in the fourth period. His 18 misses tied for the third-most in NBA history, but none of that mattered to Howard, who managed to keep his focus on getting the win throughout the choppy, disjointed game.

``No, I didn’t get frustrated because I just wanted to win the game,’’ Howard stressed. ``I just tried to be aggressive and get to the line. I didn’t care if I missed 30, but I was going to shoot the next one with confidence. I’m just happy we stuck with the game plan and got a good win.’’

The Magic actually got three wins on this trip – the bizarre one, the signature one and the historic one. Now, they head into next week’s grueling schedule feeling very good about themselves after what they accomplished some 3,000 miles away from home.

``In this league it’s tough to win on the road and we can hang our hats on doing that on this trip,’’ Magic guard J.J. Redick said. ``A lot of this league is about confidence and momentum and we have both now after playing well on this roadtrip.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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