By John Denton
December 2, 2012
LOS ANGELES – In the hours leading up to the Orlando Magic’s first-ever face-to-face meeting with their former franchise player, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson said he’d play on a sore foot, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis promised to be more aggressive and head coach Jacque Vaughn said he’d employ any tactic within the rules to win.
Clearly, the Magic were as locked in as they have been at any point this season and determined to do whatever it took – even if it meant using the Hack-A-Howard gameplan – to take down Howard and the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers.
The Magic used some dazzling shooting in the fourth quarter and some tactical fouling of Howard to turn a late seven-point deficit into a somewhat stunning 113-103 defeat of the defected big man and the Lakers.
Clearly, beating the star-studded Lakers is the biggest win of the Vaughn era in Orlando and it had to mean something special to a Magic fanbase still reeling from Howard’s messy divorce over the summer.
``It means a lot. We can all say that it was just a basketball game but obviously because of all the things that have happened in the past, especially for our fans this means a lot more,’’ said Nelson, the longest-tenured Magic player and a teammate of Howard’s for eight years. ``A lot of the guys on this team now didn’t go through what we went through last year. … We just really wanted this game as a group.’’
Down 84-83 with 6:21 to play, Vaughn instructed his players to start fouling Howard intentionally. Five trips to the free throw line over the next three minutes resulted in Howard – who entered the game shooting just 47 percent from the stripe – making just four of 10 tries. Meanwhile, the Magic (6-10) used a 28-9 spurt to surge into the lead.
The Magic (6-10) snapped a three-game losing streak by outscoring the Lakers (8-9) 40-26 in the fourth quarter. As Howard was missing several free throws the Magic got one back-breaking 3-pointer after another and repeated dunks from Howard’s replacement, Nikola Vucevic (17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots).
Late in the fourth quarter, a fan sitting courtside yelled out to Howard, `Hey Dwight, how does it feel?’ And when the game was over, Howard – who had 21 points and 15 rebounds despite making just nine of 21 free throws – walked off the floor without shaking hands with any of the Magic’s players.
``It gives, back home, the fans something to be proud of, something to feel good about and know that we’re a young team trying to make a difference,’’ Davis said.
Davis said he had nothing to say to Howard on the court. But he added that it was Howard’s prerogative to walk off the floor without shaking any of his former teammates’ hands.
Said Davis: ``He didn’t talk to me and I didn’t talk to him. I’m here to play basketball and not here to be buddies,’’ Davis cracked. ``Let Dwight be Dwight and if he wants to walk off the court, it’s cool. No hard feelings, but he lost and I wouldn’t want to shake anybody’s hand either.’’
Afflalo scored a season high 30 points, while Davis added 23 points. Nelson added 19 points and 13 assists. The Magic had 34 assists on 43 baskets.
Nelson was back in the starting lineup after missing Friday’s game because of a sore and swollen Achilles’ tendon. Nelson went through the morning shoot-around with his left ankle heavily taped and the spider-like wrap was also present during Sunday night’s game.
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