Dwight Howard terrorized Dallas on the inside. Vince Carter got to the basket and scored. Even Jameer Nelson seemed to be creating on offense. It was the perfect offensive formula for a win.
Only it wasn't.
Rashard Lewis, despite playing decent defense on Dirk Nowitzki, struggled from the floor and the bench scored six total points. For all of Orlando's depth, the team could not get any scoring from its reserves and Dallas took advantage. The Magic scored 14 points in the second quarter to lose a 12-point lead and then scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to lose an 11-point lead.
The Mavericks scored nearly 20 unanswered points and held the Magic scoreless for just more than five minutes in the fourth quarter to take the lead. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry picked apart Orlando's defense as Dallas' absent offense finally appeared in a 95-85 win Friday at Amway Arena.
Orlando got out fast at the start with an offensive outburst of 33 points in the first quarter. The Magic shot better than 50 percent and held the Mavericks to 23 points. Then it all stopped when the bench checked in to start the second quarter.
Dallas struggled to shoot still, but slowly worked its way back into the game. By halftime, Orlando found itself in a game.
The starters were able to regain control in the third quarter, but lost it again as the reserves came into the game. Dirk Nowitzki's 13 third-quarter points did not help either.
Many can say the Magic have the deepest team in the league, but it was difficult to say that tonight. Marcin Gortat had four second-quarter points and Mickael Pietrus had two points. That was all the scoring the Magic got from their bench.
The Mavericks, on the other hand, scored 27 points off the bench led by Jason Terry's 16 points.
The second unit was plain awful. The offense, which used Dwight Howard's strong post play to race out to an early lead, only had him to rely on early in the second quarter. No one on the second unit looked to attack the basket and everyone settled for jumpers. It was no surprise to see Dallas work its way back despite some decent defense.
When Orlando was scoreless in the fourth quarter, the team settled for jumpers and struggled to get inside the paint. The Magic shot a season-low 16 percent from beyond the arc (4 for 25). That is not the way Orlando gets success.
The bench was poor, but Orlando got some great play from its stars.
Dwight Howard scored 29 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, dominating the inside. When the Magic were playing their best tonight, it was when Howard was getting the ball. He displayed a variety of post moves and continued to show an expanded offensive game. Howard was the leader tonight and demanded the ball, continuing to grow as a leader.
But once again when the game was on the line, Vince Carter struggled in the fourth quarter. This is not to make Carter seem like he had a bad game. Carter played very well, scoring 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting and dishing out five assists. He looked to attack the basket and his thunderous dunk to end the first half woke Orlando up and gave the team some momentum heading into the locker room.
But Carter continued to come up empty in the fourth quarter. Orlando's other closer, Jameer Nelson, also struggled in the final quarter despite putting in a decent game -- 16 points and six assists.
Rashard Lewis struggled offensively, shooting four of 10 from the floor and two of seven from beyond the arc for 12 points. But his strong, physical defense made Dirk Nowitzki's life hard. Nowitzki scored 13 of his 23 points in the third quarter, but Lewis did a good job locking him down and defending him. Lewis needs to continue to take shots and find his stroke, but he did his part working hard against Nowitzki.
In the end, it is still confusing not to see Howard getting the ball in the fourth quarter. Howard made seven of his 10 free throws, but missed a couple in the fourth quarter and was almost ignored (two of his three misses came in the fourth).
Howard needed his touches tonight. Dallas had no answer for him.