[Orlando, FL] On a night celebrating our men and women serving in the U.S. military, emotions were running a little higher than normal for the fans of the Orlando Magic.
The beautiful Amway Center was certainly rocking – even with the large number of empty seats – in high anticipation of the home team getting their second win in a row after a disastrous 4-game stretch of losses that had everyone scratching their heads (and hiding their replica jerseys).
Tonight, the Cleveland Cavaliers were in town. That mediocre squad has been gaining notice for some pretty good individual play this season, mostly by rookie sensation Kyrie Irving, who is quick, aggressive and a joy to watch.
But the Cavs are still fundamentally unsound and in desperate need of one or two more good players. Sure, they are the second-best rebounding team in the league but that is because they miss so many shots.
Word on the street is that they are jockeying for a good draft lottery position by (sort of) throwing the season. Nonetheless, there was still NBA basketball to be played.
After tip-off, both teams went to the bigs early, possibly hoping to get the other side’s guy in foul trouble. The Cavs feisty center Anderson Varejao ending up picking up a quick whistle, but it didn’t really effect his overall playing time.
As for Magic center Dwight Howard, he managed to go almost the entire game without getting a foul. He also nearly went the distance without earning any free throws until Cleveland broke out the Hack-A-Howard (more on that later).
Photo: Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard’s defense makes the Orlando Magic a top-shelf team
The game itself was pretty unspectacular really, save for some outstanding individual play and a nail-biter ending. Both teams shot miserable percentages in the first half, with the Cavs sinking to somewhere in the neighborhood of 25%, which is downright pathetic for a pro team don’t you think.
For the Orlando Magic, Howard was his usual self, dominating on defense – you know, blocking shots and changing minds. But his offense was, well, off. He kept missing his near-patented baby hook. He must missed four of those at least.
Jason Richardson, back from a two-game rest due to injury, was the star of the show for the home team. J-Rich was looking sharp, throwing down alley-oops and making jumpers. No doubt trying to keep his starting spot with J.J. Redick nipping at his heels (incidentally, Redick was scoreless tonight in 23 minutes of play).
The Magic’s outside sharpshooter Ryan Anderson picked up two quick fouls which sent him to the bench before he could really get going. Unfortunately, that meant more playing time for Earl Clark, who was filling in for Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who was suspended him for two games for his “incident” with head coach Stan Van Gundy earlier in the day.
I honestly have no idea why Clark is still in the NBA. His shot looks horrible and his clumsy court manner is frustrating to watch. But there he is in a Magic uniform, throwing up bricks and fouling like he gets paid per infraction.
The Magic did go up early 18-9, but managed to squander that lead and end the first quarter 18-17 on some poor shooting by pretty much the entire team.
Photo: Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic forward Earl Clark
Things got real exciting when the Orlando Magic‘s newest acquisition – point guard Ish Smith – checked into the game. He’s a lively dribbler that crosses up the defense and opens up lanes to the basket. Ish even surprised the other Magic players with a few moves.
Smith is already a fan favorite after only two games and deservedly so.
Stop the presses – Earl Clark got a basket!!! And a defensive stop!!! And he earned a trip to the line!!! All in the span of 40 seconds. He’s on fire!!!
Both teams were still struggling to make shots, but the Magic kept inching northward on the scoreboard as the hapless Cavs settled into their rhythm-less play.
The Magic broke it wide open by going up 19 at the 8:30 mark in the third quarter.
Besides Irving and Antawn Jamison, the Cavs can’t get the ball in that round thing that everybody seemed to be aiming for. Defensively, they are punishingly handsy, getting a lot of second chance ops and tap-aways. But they are simply unable to do anything with the ball when they get it.
Earl Clark goes coast to coast!!! The crowd goes wild!!!
Going into the fourth, the Magic were up by 19 and feeling pretty good about themselves. Earl Clark even grabbed a monster rebound!!! Who is this guy all of a sudden?
With 10:30 left in the game, the score was 74-57 for the Magic. Then the Cavs started making threes, cutting the lead to 12 which made everybody nervous, including Earl Clark who somehow forgot how to play again.
The Cavs cut it to 10 with 3:09 left. Now we have a game. On cue, Varejao started being Varejao and trying to goad Howard into losing his cool. It didn’t work, so the Cavaliers went for the Hack-A-Howard game plan which sent the league’s (probably) worst free throw shooter to the line every time the Magic had possession of the ball.
The lead quickly evaporated to seven. Then five. The anxious crowd was really starting to turn on the superstar center with each missed free throw. Then Howard made two in a row and everything was OK again. That’s how fragile his relationship is with the fans right now.
The Orlando Magic ended up pulling it out at the end 102-94 by sheer will and determination to not end up one for six, instead they get their second victory in a row and the hometown faithful can wear those jerseys with pride once again.
“That’s the game plan,” said Dwight of the Hack-A-Howard strategy. “Until I do better at the line, they’re going to continue to do it. It was a good game plan, coming down the stretch . . . and as long as we got the win, that’s the only thing that matters.”
Notable Cavs stats: Irving had 18 points and six assists, Jamison had 16 and Alonzo Gee poured in 20.
Notable Magic stats: Dwight Howard finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 8 blocks. Jason Richardson scored 19, Hedo Turkoglu got 18 and Ryan Anderson dropped in 17. Earl Clark had 8 points.
Next up for the Orlando Magic: at Indiana on Saturday, L.A. Clippers visit on Monday, and Miami hits town on Wednesday.
By: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate
Images: Orlando Magic