Lately Orlando has needed to remind the NBA why it went to the NBA Finals. Mired in a slump, by the team's standards and lofty goals at least, Orlando was slowly fading from the list of sure-fire contenders.
Everyone seemed off their game.
Vince Carter has struggled to shoot. Jameer Nelson is struggling to round back into form after an early season injury. Dwight Howard's game has lacked the refinement and development everyone would expect. Rashard Lewis has not been as efficient or accurate as previous seasons.
But what everyone forgets is that the Magic went to the Finals based on defense. Friday night was a reminder.
Howard showed his Defensive Player of the Year credentials in protecting the rim with two of Orlando's 12 blocks (Marcin Gortat had four!) and the rest of the team played stifling defense in a ho-hum, easy 100-84 win over Sacramento on Friday night at Amway Arena.
The defensive numbers are staggering. As mentioned above, the team had 12 blocks. Four by the Polish Hammer (pick your nickname), who took advantage of his extended minutes and helped anchor the unit in the second quarter which helped the Magic build such a huge lead.
Additionally, Sacramento shot just 33.3 percent from the floor. The Kings found themselves down by 17 at the half after scoring only 10 points in the second quarter. They could not inch any closer as the Magic opened up a 30-point lead in the third quarter. It was not until garbage time when Orlando got sloppy and had Anthony Johnson paired with Jason Williams in the backcourt that Sacramento made the score a "respectable" 16 points.
It was out and out dominance for Orlando. Probably the best defensive performance for the team in quite some time.
Speaking of best performances in quite some time, Vince Carter awoke slightly from his offensive struggles tonight. He was smart with shots and looked to attack the rim and get to the basket. Carter scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Not hugely impressive, but it was his first game with double-digit points since the game at Minnesota at the beginning of the month.
As with the last game against Sacramento, Dwight Howard was the focus of the offense -- and defense. Howard was very solid again tonight in posting 19 points and 15 rebounds. He hit four of seven shots and made 11 of 12 free throws (including his first 10). He seems to be really settling into his offensive game now.
Something must have made him angry or something because he is looking much more focused and aggressive on both ends of the floor as Orlando tries to kick into a higher gear.
Tonight, and for most of Wednesday night, it looks like Orlando is getting into that second or third gear that was lacking during the West Coast trip and the games before that. Of course, the Pacers and Kings are not playoff teams. The Bobcats are barely a playoff team. But they offer a solid opponent for the Magic to continue building on and to continue getting back into stride.