Denton: Magic-Thunder Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
February 25, 2011

ORLANDO – In the hours before Friday night’s game at Amway Center, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard opined that the Oklahoma City Thunder are legitimate threats to win an NBA championship now after trading for defensive-minded center Kendrick Perkins.

Considering how Howard systematically destroyed one of the NBA’s best teams Friday night, Perkins – a long-time Magic nemesis -- can’t get healthy and to Oklahoma City fast enough.

Two days after imploring his teammates to do less talking and more hustling on the court, Howard went out and took care of business on his own with an effort that is becoming commonplace. Howard had his fourth straight 30-point game with 40 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in Orlando’s bounce-back 111-88 defeat of Oklahoma City on Friday night.

And this time for a change – certainly a change from Wednesday’s ugly home loss to Sacramento – Howard got some help from his teammates. Jason Richardson helped sling-shot the Magic out of their team-wide shooting slump with 17 points and five 3-points. J.J. Redick had another two 3-pointers and 16 points, Jammer Nelson scored 14 points and Hedo Turkoglu dished out 10 assists.

``We talked about sacrifice and being willing to play this way for 48 minutes, and for the most part we did that,’’ Howard said after his latest masterpiece. ``We’ve got to be consistent every night. I’m just trying to stay focused on what my team needs me to do as a leader. I still think there are a lot of things that I can do better.’’

Howard’s all-around performance was the first of its kind in the NBA in two seasons. Coincidentally, he was also the last player with a 40-15-6 game, battering Charlotte with 45 points, 19 rebounds and eight blocks in February of 2009. No other player has put up those kinds of numbers since 1999.

``The guy is playing as well as anybody in the league right now hands down,’’ Redick said. ``It’s just up to the rest of us to match that and play well, too.’’

Losers to the 14-win Kings on Wednesday, the Magic (37-22) came out determined to play better on Friday, and it showed on both ends of the floor. Orlando held the high-scoring Thunder to 88 points and 33.3 percent shooting. They kept OKC out of the lane (just 26 points in the paint), kept them from running (12 fast-break points) and they loaded up on all-stars Kevin Durant (23 points) and Russell Westbrook (18 points).

It was a dramatically different game than six weeks ago when Oklahoma City scored 125 points on the Magic, including 36 from Durant and a triple-double from Westbrook.

``We came out and did everything that we’re supposed to do and we played good defense,’’ Richardson said. ``I think the Sacramento game was one of those games coming off the All-star break, we looked at their record and we weren’t ready to play,’’ Richardson said. ``We have to come out ready to play every night like (Friday). We have to take what Dwight said and step up to the plate every night.’’

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from Friday’s nationally televised game from the Amway Center: