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For most of the season it seemed like there was a fairly strong possibility that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard would actually be wearing a red New Jersey Nets uniform, playing the role of villain when the teams met on March 16 at the Amway Center – one day after the trade deadline – as opposed to continuing on as the Magic’s star, leading them to a comfortable 86-70 victory.
Howard shocked the basketball world on Thursday with his decision to remain under contract with Orlando through next season, and proceeded to follow it up with an 18 point, 6 rebound effort against New Jersey, the team many believed to be the frontrunner in acquiring his services before the deadline.
“I don’t think anyone asked me any questions about trades, so that part is over with,” said Howard about the season-long situation after the win.
Forward Glen Davis and point guard Jameer Nelson each chipped in 13 points as Orlando’s second leading scorers behind Howard. Forward Ryan Anderson’s 12 point night made him the team’s next highest point man, followed by forward Hedo Turkoglu and shooting guard Jason Richardson, who both added 10.
Howard scored 10 of his 18 in the first quarter on a perfect 5/5 from the field. He would then only take two shots in the second quarter, missing both and going scoreless for the remainder of the half.
A 3/3 second half with two made free throws gave him his final 8 points on 8/10 shooting.
New Jersey was considerably banged up, as All Star point guard Deron Williams sat out for the fourth straight game with a sore right calf, along with backup guard Jordan Farmar, suffering from a strained right groin, and center Brook Lopez, who has been unavailable since March 4 with a sprained right ankle.
The Magic certainly took advantage of New Jersey’s health issues, never trailing the rest of the way after falling behind 2-0 in the early moments.
Orlando took an 11-4 lead with a 7-0 run that concluded with 7:41 remaining in the first quarter. They ended the quarter with a 22-18 lead. A 12-2 run extended the lead to double digits, 43-29, with 2:57 left in the half.
Jameer Nelson’s three pointer with 2.1 to go in the half ended a 7-0 Nets run, making it a 46-36 score in favor of Orlando at halftime.
Nets guard/forward Gerald Green, who is on his second 10-day contract with the team, went 6/9 from the floor and led them with 14 points total, half of which came on 3/3 shooting in the first quarter.
A 21-11 scoring stretch by the Magic in the third quarter stretched their lead all the way out to 20 at 67-47, their largest of the night.
The Nets were able to make the score manageable when a long alley-oop pass from forward Deshaun Stevenson accidentally banked into the basket for a three pointer during the final seconds of the third and cut the lead to 72-60 entering the fourth. It was easily one of the most bizarre three pointers ever witnessed.
But the Magic never allowed the Nets to creep any closer than 12 points in the final period, and they coasted toward an 86-70 win.
“I was happy,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy about his team’s overall performance. “I thought we did a good job on their starters. Their bench guys, Gerald Green got going, but I was fairly happy with our defense. The only thing I was unhappy with honestly was the 20 turnovers … again, just mindless.”
The Nets now sit at 15-30 following the loss, but just a reasonable five and a half games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final playoff seed in the East. They will host the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday night.
As for The Magic, they are now third in the East with a 29-16 record. They will make their way to Miami for a Sunday night matchup against the Heat, who they have beaten two out of three times this season, including this past Tuesday, 104-98, and trail by only four games in the standings.
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/