Cohen: Magic-Cavaliers Postgame Analysis
By Josh Cohen
March 21, 2011
Disregard the opponent for a moment, their injuries and enduring antagonism about the departure of their former conqueror.
The Orlando Magic’s victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday deserves two separate examinations.
The first three quarters for the Magic, on one hand, were NBA championship pedigree. They were resourceful in their offensive attack, relentless on the glass and tenacious guarding the perimeter.
The fourth quarter, on the other hand, was a combination of Orlando decreasing its pressure and intensity and watching a spirited Cavs team with no expectations crawl back with a furious rally.
Yes, the Cavaliers have the league’s worst record and continue to try and overcome LeBron James’ decision last summer. But in spite of its flaws and frustrations, Cleveland refused to quit in spite of Orlando strangling it early and often for the first 36 minutes.
A familiar theme when it struggles, Orlando committed 20 turnovers including seven in the final frame.
But credit both Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass for their willingness to accept contact in the paint. Orlando’s hustle and muscle inside combined for 50 points on 18-of-21 shooting.
Howard, just like he’s done throughout the season, was virtually inexorable – slamming home dunk after dunk after dunk in the first half. He finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds.
In addition to his proficient offensive assault on the Cavs, D12 was almost automatic from the free throw line. He went 10-of-12 from the stripe – a statistic that the Magic hope will carry over to the postseason.
Howard had said recently that Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson told him that if he could become a proficient free throw shooter, the big man could average 40 points a game.
Jackson isn’t exaggerating or embellishing.
As demonstrated in Cleveland, there really is no stopping Howard. The five-time NBA All-Star has improved in practically every aspect of his offensive game, including his overall footwork and short baby jumper.
Shades of the days of Wilt Chamberlain – a legend that Howard has always admired – it’s possible that D12 is evolving into that type of game-changer.
Not that it’s any sort of surprise discovery or breakthrough, but Howard’s dominance inside should be a severe warning sign to the other elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
Especially after the Celtics decided to trade Kendrick Perkins – a nemesis of Howard who became renowned for his ability to effectively guard D12 one-on-one – and with both the Heat and Bulls lacking interior depth and experience, the Magic should feel a certain degree of confidence with the playoffs around the corner.
Bass, similarly, was no different on Monday. The Louisiana native bulldozed his way to the rim for more jams and also found the range on his 15-foot jumpers as he concluded with 22 points.
"Brandon played with tremendous energy," Stan Van Gundy said. "He was really rolling hard on pick and rolls, finishing and our guys were doing a good job of getting them (Bass and Howard) the ball."
It was reassuring as well to see Bass enjoy one of his best games of the season. Someone who spends hours and hours perfecting his craft, Bass has transformed into a very multidimensional power forward.
While Orlando’s 3-point shooting will always be a factor since they attempt the most in the league and with its turnovers still too high, the Magic’s power game will be imperative in the postseason.
As the familiar adage goes, NBA championships are won in the paint and it’s imperative for the Magic to get comfortable in there.
They certainly were in Cleveland.
Who do you think was tonight's Player of the Game?