Around the Amway - March 7, 2011
By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive
It was going to take a spectacular effort from the Orlando Magic’s supporting cast to upend the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday without help from Dwight Howard.
As a result, being “good” on this night wasn’t good enough as the Magic played their Western Conference foes tooth and nail until the very end before falling, 89-85, at Amway Center.
With Howard serving his one-game suspension, the Magic got solid production from Jason Richardson (22 points), Ryan Anderson (13 points, seven rebounds), Hedo Turkoglu (13 points, five rebounds) and Earl Clark (nine points, nine rebounds).
But Orlando just didn’t have an answer in the closing minutes to propel it past a talented and budding Blazers team that is probably as healthy as they have been all season.
Recognizing completely that they had to shoot the ball well from 3-point distance, the Magic cashed in on 11 from beyond the arc. J-Rich hit four from long range, Anderson buried three of them and Turkoglu connected on two from behind the line.
Turnovers, however, proved to be costly as Orlando committed 19 unforced errors.
“I thought our ball movement got better as the game went on, we just turned the ball over too much,” Stan Van Gundy said.
LaMarcus Aldridge erupted for 24 points and Brandon Roy, who is clearly still trying to get back to full strength from knee problems, nailed a few critical jumpers in the fourth quarter.
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If you’re looking for positive signs from the Magic’s loss to the Trail Blazers, look no further than Jason Richardson.
For the third straight game, Orlando’s high-energy shooting guard delivered an outstanding performance on the offensive end of the floor.
J-Rich fired off a team-high 22 points on an extremely efficient 8-for-13 performance from the field to keep Orlando close to Portland.
“Jason had a great night,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy explained. “We had a chance and we just turned the ball over way, way, way too much.”
Richardson kept the Magic in the contest with his accuracy from downtown, nailing four of his five shots from beyond the arc.
It’s becoming a positive trend. Over the last three games, J-Rich is draining 70 percent of his three-point attempts.
But he’d trade all that individual success in a heartbeat for another notch in Orlando’s win column.
“Anytime you lose, it’s difficult, no matter what,” he said. “We played hard, we gave it our all, just didn’t come up at the end.”
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It’s hard to figure out exactly what we learned from Monday’s game against the Blazers.
With Dwight Howard serving his one-game suspension, it was an opportunity for Orlando’s supporting cast to showcase their aptitude.
Generally they did a rock-solid job considering the circumstances, but couldn’t shift the momentum enough in the closing minutes.
Jason Richardson stepped up to the challenge of carrying a large percentage of the offensive load as he poured in 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and Gilbert Arenas hit a few critical shots to help Orlando erase a 14-point second-half deficit.
But the Magic also seemed a bit disoriented in certain stages of the game, especially in the final two minutes. It felt like they finally realized Howard was not around to assist in the battle and didn’t exactly know whom to turn to when things mattered most.
On Orlando’s final possession, for example, the Magic were too unselfish and didn’t manage the clock well as time expired without giving themselves an opportunity to still win the game.
Hedo Turkoglu passed up a wide-open 3-pointer that would have potentially trimmed the deficit to one with still a few seconds remaining, but opted to pass to Earl Clark who attempted his shot way too late to give Orlando any chance.
Nonetheless, there should still be some optimism in the Magic locker room considering they played an opponent that has the talent to make some noise in the Western Conference and were in it at the very end.
If anyone had suggested the Portland Trail Blazers had a remote chance of representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals after Greg Oden was announced out for the season and Brandon Roy would be reduced to a lesser role because of his injuries, they probably would have seemed delusional.
But because of the elevated play from LaMarcus Aldridge, who is averaging career highs in both points and rebounds this season, the surprising eruption from Wesley Matthews and the addition of Gerald Wallace following a blockbuster trade deadline deal, the Blazers are certainly contenders.
While they will have to finish the regular season strong and climb up in the standings to be recognized as a threat to any of the current top four teams (Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers, Thunder), the Blazers have the talent to contend with anyone in a seven-game series.
Earlier in the season when injuries seemed to all but destroy its season, Portland reportedly discussed the possibility of blowing up its roster. Players such as Andre Miller, Marcus Camby and Rudy Fernandez were all discussed in various trade rumors.
Instead, however, the Blazers decided to be buyers at the deadline and opted to add a familiar Eastern Conference foe, Wallace, to the mix to help bolster their chances.
Although it seems to be a work in progress fitting in their All-Star newcomer with their other players as witnessed in Monday’s game against the Magic, once head coach Nate McMillan figures out the appropriate system for everyone to coexist, Portland is expected to be a tough out in the postseason.
The second-year standout notched nine points, nine rebounds and three blocks in a season-high 31 minutes of action.
“I just try to stay within the team concept, play hard on defense, rebound and try to keep everybody’s energy up,” Clark explained.
During an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, Howard stressed his love for Orlando and his desire to win a championship for the franchise that drafted him.
“I would love to finish my career here and I want a championship and I want to get it in Orlando,” D12 explained. “That’s the only thing that I’ve been thinking about.”
The 33 consecutive-game steak likely came to an end because of the absence of Howard, the daily double-double machine.