By John Denton
December 2, 2012
The victory was especially satisfying for Nelson after he saw all of the chaos that Howard’s trade demand and transaction to the Lakers caused the only franchise he’s ever played for. Nelson, who could have left this past summer as a free agent, wanted this win for those in the Magic organization and those who have faithfully supported it for years.
``I definitely want to be in Orlando. I could have gone somewhere else, but this organization has been so, so true to me,’’ Nelson said. ``The one thing I wanted to continue to do was be in a Magic uniform because the fans and the (Rich) DeVos family. I love what they are about; they are about what I stand for. They’ve helped me a lot over the last nine years.’’
Sunday’s game was the first of five on this nine-day roadtrip for the Magic. Orlando will play the Warriors on Monday and then face the Jazz (Wednesday), Kings (Friday) and Suns (Sunday) during one of its longest road jaunts of the season.
Howard said Sunday morning that he would have ``no emotion’’ facing his former team of the past eight seasons, but he did share a moment with Nelson early in the game. Howard came behind the Magic point guard, tapped him on the shoulder and shared a laugh.
And later in the first half, after Nelson drilled a difficult fade-away jumper along the baseline over Howard, Nelson slapped his former teammate on the hip as the two ran back up the floor.
Vaughn said before the game he would use ``whatever was within the confines of the rules,’’ including fouling Howard intentionally if it would benefit the Magic. He did just that twice in the third quarter, using Josh McRoberts to foul Howard intentionally. Howard, who came into the game shooting just 47 percent from the free throw line, missed his first three tries from the stripe before finally hitting one much to the delight of the crowd at Staples Center.
The Magic led for several stretches of the third period and trailed just 77-73 heading into the fourth quarter. Orlando’s ball movement was as good as it’s been in weeks with the team handing out 21 assists on the first 29 baskets.
``The first thing I mentioned after the game was that we played for each other and with each other,’’ Vaughn said. ``That was great from the beginning to the end. The 34 assists shows our unselfishness and our ability to play like that every night. It’s just about having a commitment and a focus and tonight we had it.’’
Afflalo drilled a 3-pointer as the first half horn sounded to get the Magic into a 52-all tie at the break. Afflalo sought out shots early in the first 24 minutes and drilled six of 10 tries for 14 first-half points.
Howard scored just five points in the first half, all of them coming in the first quarter. He had a couple of light moments late in the first half when he tried shooting a 21-footer and banked the ball off the glass and astray. Seconds later, Howard swatted a Davis shot volleyball-style out of bounds, but was whistled for a goal-tending call.
Davis and Afflalo, who both said in the days leading up to Sunday that they looked to be much more offensively aggressive, combined for 14 of the Magic’s 23 points in the first quarter. Their play helped steady the Magic early on and kept them within 27-23 by the end of the first period.
Howard was aggressive from the jump, totaling five points and seven rebounds in the first quarter alone. He air-balled his first shot against the Magic, missing a lefty hook badly.
In the end, Nelson marveled at how Vaughn had the perfect strategy all night long against Howard and the Lakers: Keep them in pick-and-roll sets, launch numerous threes and foul Howard with the game on the line.
Said Nelson: ``It gave us an opportunity because when they were scoring one point or no points we were scoring (at least) two,’’ Nelson said. ``…People are going to say there was a little extra incentive because Dwight was on the other side, but it’s a good win for our team and for our fans. Tonight we proved that we can play well against good teams for long stretches of the game.’’
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