By John Denton
December 3, 2012
Greetings from San Francisco, where the Magic’s charter sailed through the air on the momentum provided by a victory in Los Angeles that won’t soon be forgotten by the players or the fan base back in Central Florida.
How amazingly momentous was the Sunday shocker that read Magic 113, Dwight Howard 103 … errr, oops, make that Los Angeles Lakers 103 points? Let’s count all of those for whom this win was extremely big for:
- It was a big win for Jameer Nelson. Nelson, who came one assist shy of a career high with 13, made sure to point out after the game that he could have left Orlando this past summer as a free agent, but instead chose to stay because the Magic organization was always true to him. Nelson admitted this was not just another win; he said it was special for the players who endured the distractions last season and the Dwight drama all summer.
- It was a big win for rookie GM Rob Hennigan. Hennigan, the man who was charged with trading Howard in one of his first big moves on the job, was all smiles afterward Sunday’s win. He was most proud of the way the Magic came together for one common goal and played with a purpose all night.
- It was a big win for first-year head coach Jacque Vaughn. He pulled all the right strings all night long, keeping the team in pick-and-roll plays most of the night to exploit the Lakers’ lack of team speed. And with Nelson, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo rolling and keeping the Magic close, Vaughn unveiled the Hack-A-Howard game plan at just the right time. Howard shot 10 free throws in the guts of the fourth quarter and hit only four. Each time he misfired, the Staples Center crowd groaned and the Lakers grew more frustrated. It was a genius move that Vaughn hinted at before the game, saying he would do whatever was within the confines of the rules to win.
- It was a big win for Arron Afflalo and Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis. Both veterans took the past three losses hard, meeting at their lockers and talking about ways to make the team’s flow better. Their answer was to come out Sunday in attack mode. Afflalo made 11 of 18 shots, hit four of eight 3-pointers, got to the free throw line four times, handed out five assists and scored 30 points. Dare I say Afflalo – who desperately wants to be considered as an elite shooting guard – outplayed Kobe Bryant.
And then there was Davis. He’s been especially hard on himself of late, feeling that he let his teammates down when he missed shots in the lane and failed to rebound to his capability in losses to Boston, San Antonio and Brooklyn. All he did on Sunday was score 23 points and grab 12 rebounds.
- It was a big win for Howard’s replacement, Nikola Vucevic. The 7-footer had been missing in action much of the past week while playing against the likes of Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and an improved Andray Blatche. And if Vucevic didn’t come to play on Sunday, Howard could have destroyed him. Vaughn and his coaching staff kept preaching to the second-year center that they believed in his abilities. He not only contributed 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, but he also finished at least four plays with thunderous dunks. The Magic have been trying to cultivate Vucevic’s nasty side, and on Sunday against Howard we might have finally seen the birth of it.
- It was a big win for the Magic fanbase. Nelson and Davis, two of the players who endured the daily Dwight drama last season and felt the wake of his departure this summer, said this victory was for the people in Orlando who kept the faith in the Magic. Nelson, the longest-tenured Magic player on the roster, knows the pain and suffering felt by the fans this season and he desperately wanted to give them something like Sunday’s win to restore the faith in the franchise. Nelson said the night proved that the Magic can play with elite teams for long stretches and that Magic fans have a team that they know will fight and continue to get better.
- And finally, it was a big night for closing the Howard saga for the time being. Losing the franchise’s all-time leader in minutes, points, rebounds and blocked shots will never be easy for Magic fans to stomach. But Sunday’s frantic finish gave Magic fans bragging rights and a bit of joy … at least until March when Howard plays in Orlando as a Laker for the first time.
The Magic are back in action Monday night against the vastly improved Golden State Warriors and their ability to bounce back from such an emotional game just 20 hours later will certainly be tested. But if this team proved anything on Sunday night in taking down the mighty Howard, it’s that anything is possible when a team plays with the purpose it had against the Lakers.
Savor this one, Magic fans. They don’t much sweeter and dripping with irony than this.
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