Two weeks ago in Cleveland, Vince Carter and Orlando struggled to close the game as LeBron James took over and led Cleveland to a big victory over its Eastern Conference rival.
The Magic faced the same situation in the fourth quarter at Amway Arena. They trailed by as much as seven in the fourth quarter and watched James be LeBron James throughout the game and watched Shaquille O'Neal establish good low post position for easy points throughout the night.
For Orlando, Vince Carter was typically inefficient. And then something clicked.
Running a pick and roll with Jameer Nelson in the late stages of the fourth quarter, Carter and Nelson scored 18 straight points to spark a Magic run that put them in the lead. Carter hit a tough jumper over James in the post to cap off the run and then found Rashard Lewis in the corner for a 3-pointer to put the game away.
James was nowhere to be seen as he scored just three points in the fourth quarter and the Magic took a 101-95 win at Amway Arena on Sunday.
No two Magic players have struggled as much as Carter and Nelson this year. Carter's problems integrating into the offense and finding his role on the team. Nelson has had an up and down season battling his knee injury and coming back to the mean. It was somewhat surprising to see the two take over the game as they did.
To that point, it was pretty much all Dwight Howard on offense. Howard scored 22 points and grabbed 16 rebounds and again displayed his newfound offensive arsenal, making all the right moves against O'Neal to get around him and take hook shots over him.
After a long stretch of ignoring Howard and watching Cleveland take control of the game, Orlando stormed back thanks to Nelson, Carter and Howard.
Nelson and Carter especially got things moving in the fourth quarter with the pick and roll. But instead of using Howard, Nelson and Carter ran the pick and roll together to get a mismatch in the post. Carter took advantage of having Mo Williams on him and got to the basket -- putting in a thunderous dunk over Anderson Varejao -- or hitting fall-away jumpers. Carter did not shoot incredibly well, but scored 11 points.
Once the Cavaliers switched James on to Carter, Nelson took over. He scored 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting and made a bunch of mid-range jumpers off the pick and roll with the defense shading Carter.
In this case, it was Orlando's offense working in concert. The possession that ended the Cavaliers' chances at victory was Carter coming off a pick and roll with Howard and finding Rashard Lewis in the corner for three.
Game. Set. Match.
Wins do not get much bigger than this as it seemed Cleveland had all its pieces working well together. James was, as mentioned earlier, LeBron James. He scored 33 points on 12-of-25 shooting and nine rebounds. But surprisingly, Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O'Neal also turned in good games, showing Cleveland that these two players can give Orlando problems.
O'Neal scored 20 points on nine of 10 shooting, taking advantage of deep post position and his size. He did a good job pushing Howard on offense and forcing Howard to stay with his man on box outs. This opened up rebounding lanes for the Cavaliers who outrebounded the Magic 43-34, including nine offensive boards.
Most were interested to see how Jamison would perform in his first game against Orlando. Even after an 0-for-12 performance Friday against Charlotte, Jamison still gave the Cavaliers the stretch-4 to matchup with Lewis. Even though he struggled in the first half, Jamison made the Magic's defense make some major adjustments. Orlando abandoned its plans to double team O'Neal when Jamison was in the game -- allowing O'Neal some extra space.
Jamison then took over early in the second half. He scored six points to erase the Magic's six-point halftime lead on his way to 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Cleveland is still learning how to play with Jamison, and Orlando surely learned some things on how to play Cleveland with Jamison in its lineup.
It certainly helped as Cleveland did a very good job chasing Orlando off the 3-point line. Part of that was certainly Stan Van Gundy telling his players to take fewer shots. Orlando was eight of 20 from beyond the arc and the quality of looks were generally better (there were not as many in transition).
But as with everything, Orlando's chances at victory began and ended with Howard. Howard was involved throughout the game tonight. He had more than 10 points after one quarter and changed uncountable shots defensively.
There were plenty of moments in the third and fourth quarter where Howard did not touch the ball or get his shot attempts and the Cavaliers won those sections of the game. But in the fourth quarter, and even late, Howard was involved. And this was important to the Magic's comeback.
Yes, it was Nelson and Carter who handled the ball. But it was Howard setting the picks and drawing the defense in. Not only that, but Howard got the ball at the end of the game and had an opportunity to use a late-game possession. He was fouled and split his free throws, but it was nice to see Van Gundy and his teammates show confidence in Howard at the end of games.
This is just one win. But it may mean a lot as the season goes on. More than anything, Orlando regained some of that swagger the team had over Cleveland. In a playoff atmosphere at Amway Arena, the Magic stepped up late in the game to earn a win, something they did not do in Cleveland two weeks ago.