Denton's Dish: Magic vs. Suns (3/21/12)
By John Denton
March 21, 2012
ORLANDO – You’d get little argument from anyone inside the Amway Center Wednesday night, especially Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat, about Dwight Howard’s status as the NBA’s best center.
But what is still up for debate is just how large the gulf is between Howard and the NBA’s second-best big man. Howard made another case Wednesday night that the gap between the best and the rest is as enormous as ever.
Howard demolished Gortat, his former Magic teammate, to the tune of 28 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots as Orlando bounced back from a horrible performance on Monday with a 103-93 defeat of Phoenix on Wednesday night.
After missing six of his seven shots and getting outscored 28-4, Gortat echoed what he absorbed every day in practice for 3 ½ seasons: Howard is the NBA’s best center and it’s not even really a contest.
``I’ve seen him in a worse mood and a bigger attacking mode than today. He just had a good game. I mean, he was himself,’’ Gortat said. ``I probably gave him too much respect. I should have played him a bit stronger in fighting for my position, but now it’s over. He basically destroyed me and the whole team so that’s what happened. I tried to hold up to him in the first half and then in the second half, I kind of fell asleep and he started scoring like crazy.’’
The Magic (30-18) shot 47 percent from the floor, made 11 3-pointers and led by as much as 22 points in the second half. The free-flowing offensive performance was in direct contrast to Monday’s 85-59 bloodbath against the Chicago Bulls. The Magic scored at least 20 points in all four quarters after going through a stretch of six straight periods without hitting 20.
``I thought we’d come out and move the ball better, use our screens and be a lot more active,’’ said power forward Ryan Anderson, who burned the Suns by scoring 29 points and hitting seven 3-pointers. ``We need to keep playing with more energy and when we do that we get a lot of open looks and a lot of guys are scoring.’’
Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis scored 16 points off the bench, while J.J. Redick added 10 points and two 3-pointers.
Phoenix (23-24) was playing a night after blowing a 10-point lead in the final 7 minutes of a loss to the Miami Heat. Remarkably, Gortat had more assists (three) than Steve Nash, who had only two assists to go with five turnovers and 12 points.
Here is a look back at the key moments from Wednesday’s home win against the Suns:
- Howard demolished Gortat from start to finish, scoring in a variety of ways, while also shutting down the Phoenix pick-and-roll game. Howard had seven points and eight rebounds in the first quarter and then poured in four more field goals in the second period to give him 15 points by halftime.
And the domination continued in the second half as Howard made all five of his shots and added 13 points and seven rebounds after halftime. Even Gortat has noticed a major growth in Howard’s game since he was traded to Phoenix last December.
``He’s way more skilled. He’s patient with everything he does, he’s reading defenses better. He’s definitely improved his game,’’ Gortat raved. ``He's slowed down everything he does and he’s more patient, definitely.’’
- Struggling on both ends of the floor of late, Anderson broke out of his slump with a much-needed solid shooting night. Anderson made nearly as many threes (seven) as he made in the previous five games combined (eight).
Anderson got off to a torrid start in the first half, making four of his first five shots from 3-point range in the first half. He had 16 points in the first two quarters by beating perimeter-based power forward Channing Frey at his own game.
``It’s been a tough couple of games,’’ Anderson admitted. ``It’s not just because of scoring or missing shots because this is a team sport. I’m going to have off shooting night and have weeks when I shoot the ball terrible. The way we were playing as a team, we were in a little rut that we were all going through. It’s nice to come out with a win and have everyone shoot the ball well and score more than 59 points.’’
- Jason Richardson has said repeatedly this season how much he despises sitting out of games with injuries and always tries to return ahead of schedule. But doing that could be working against Richardson these days.
Richardson missed two games last week after grotesquely rolling over his ankle. Davis got back for Friday’s New Jersey win, but he’s struggled mightily with his shot.
Richardson made four of nine tries against New Jersey, hit only five of 13 tries against the Heat, one of seven versus the Bulls and missed all seven of his shots on Wednesday. To make matters worse, he is just three of 16 from 3-point range in the past four games since returning from the injury.
``I think he’s healthy, but he’s just playing very poorly. But he did have six rebounds and five assists, which are good totals for him,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
``He just can’t get the ball in the basket right now and obviously that’s a problem for us. But I think the six rebounds and five assists show that he’s making an effort to do the things you want, so it’s not an effort thing.’’
- J.J. Redick went down in a heap early in the fourth quarter when he took a hard knee to the thigh from Grant Hill. Redick was none too happy about the hard hit, but he eventually shook it off and shared a laugh with Hill. Redick and Hill are friends because of their storied ties to Duke University.
- When the Magic’s lead plunged from 22 points to 13 with 4:52 remaining Van Gundy was forced to go back to his starting unit. Howard, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu were summoned from the bench and needed to close out the game when the Suns refused to go away.
Barked Van Gundy: ``I thought for three quarters we made a concerted defensive effort. Then we got a big lead, shut down and didn’t do a damn thing.’’
- Gortat made a point of going over to the Magic bench and greeting Van Gundy and assistant coaches Brendan Malone, Steve Clifford and Bob Beyer before and after Wednesday’s game. Gortat said he wouldn’t be in position now where he’s averaging 15.9 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns without the help of the Magic coaching staff.
``I grew up here as a player and I appreciate the whole organization and the whole team for what they did for me,’’ Gortat said. ``Obviously Coach Stan gave me the right knowledge and Coach Malone sacrificed four years of teaching me and working with me. It was a great experience and now I am with a different team and looking forward. I want to play better (in Phoenix) and become a better player.’’
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at email@example.com
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