By John Denton
March 10, 2013
Magic center Nik Vucevic, who spent his rookie season in Philadelphia, added 14 points and 17 rebounds. Vucevic, who was traded to Orlando this summer in the Howard transaction, has 50 rebounds in three games against his former team.
Tobias Harris, a starter for the second time with the Magic, chipped in 15 points. Orlando (18-46) shot 49.4 percent, hit 12 3-pointers and had five players reach double digits in scoring. And the Magic’s ball movement was so good against the fading Sixers (23-39) that they had 28 assists on their 41 baskets. Philly has lost five in a row overall and 13 in a row on the road, not winning away from home since beating the Lakers in Los Angeles on New Year’s Day.
Now, Orlando can set its sights on the much-anticipated game against the Lakers and Howard. The Magic will be attempting to win back-to-back games for the first time this season since Dec. 19. Afflalo said he’s already looking forward to playing in an electric atmosphere against the Lakers on Tuesday night.
``I’m sure a lot of Magic fans will turn out – Dwight supporters and non-supporters,’’ Afflalo said with a smile. ``The environment is always fun to compete in general, so whatever outside story creates that environment, basketball players love it. This is what you play the game for. This is what the playoffs are essentially built around. So if you can get that type of atmosphere or a different type of environment for a regular season game, it will be fun.’’
The Magic will host the Lakers Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Howard’s first game back in Orlando since forcing a trade in August. The vibe in the Amway Center promises to be a contentious one what with Howard asking out of Orlando repeatedly last season and recently calling his former teammates ``guys that nobody wanted,’’ words that angered Rashard Lewis, J.J. Redick and Nelson.
Howard spent his first eight NBA seasons in Orlando, five times making All-NBA squads and winning three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards. Howard led the Magic to some of their greatest times – the NBA Finals in 2009, the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 and six straight playoff berths – but he left on a sour note when he forced a trade to the Lakers last summer.
The Lakers will hit Orlando at 33-31 after dispatching the Chicago Bulls 90-81 on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. Howard played a major role in the victory – as he has done in L.A.’s recent resurgence – with 16 points, 21 rebounds and four blocked shots. Over his past five games – four of them Lakers victories – Howard has averaged 15.4 points, 16 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots.
Orlando whipped the Lakers 113-103 on Dec. 2 in Los Angeles in a game where Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn had players intentionally foul Howard in an attempt to expose his free throw shooting weaknesses.
Because Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis is out injured, Hedo Turkoglu is suspended and J.J. Redick was traded away, Nelson is the only player remaining on the Magic who played alongside of Howard. Afflalo, who was a part of a Denver team jilted by Carmelo Anthony, said he’ll be interested to see how Orlando’s young players react to the intensity of Tuesday’s game.
``We’ll see how (the rookies) react,’’ Afflalo said. ``The idea is to be prepared to play. Generally when you’re not prepared to play it’s because you’re not understanding the expectations or the circumstances that are coming into your building. Sometimes with younger players they don’t pay attention to storylines going around in the NBA. It’s a huge game for (the Lakers) as they try to progress. And it would be nice for us to get a back-to-back win for once.’’
Up by five at halftime, the Magic were forced to fight back much of the third quarter after a slow start to the second half. But two 3-pointers from Nelson and another from Harris vaulted the Magic into a 73-72 lead by the start of the fourth quarter.
The Magic shook off a slow start in the first quarter and shredded the Sixers’ defense in the second quarter to take a 56-51 lead into the intermission. Orlando hit 13 of 23 shots (56.5 percent) in the second quarter to put up their best first-half scoring total in weeks.
Once down as much as 10 points in the first quarter, the Magic surged into the lead by getting better movement with two point guards – Nelson and Udrih – on the floor at the same time.
``Jameer sometimes likes to play off the ball sometimes and so do I because it takes the pressure off us,’’ Udrih said. ``It’s the point guard who has to get our offense in sets. When they were denying me, (Nelson) was playing point guard. And when they were trying to deny him I was playing point guard. So we can both shoot the ball, cut to the basket and get our teammates open. It worked well (on Sunday) and hopefully we can keep it going.’’
Nelson had 10 points and seven assists in the first half alone and he did a solid job of slowing down all-star point guard Jrue Holiday. Udrih, a nine-year veteran, has taken the backup point guard job away from E’Twaun Moore because of his distribution skills. He had four more assists in the first half, helping the Magic have assists on 17 of their first 25 baskets.
The prettiest pass of the first half came from Harris. The power forward drove hard at the rim to draw Philadelphia’s Lavoy Allen before he flipped a behind-the-back pass to Vucevic for a thunderous dunk. Making his second start in a Magic uniform, Harris got off to a good start with 10 points, four rebounds and two assists in the first half.
``I picked my spots a little better in this game and I felt comfortable out there,’’ Harris said. ``We’ve come back in all of these games that have been close. That shows that a 10-point lead can be broken. As a team we were mentally focused out there because we wanted to win this game.’’
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