They were rested enough to take control of the game late. The energy had been provided, the lift been given. Dwight Howard missed most of the game with foul trouble -- he picked up two quick ones nearly 90 seconds into the game and then picked up number four quickly in the third. This seemed like a game where the Magic would fold against an energetic and aggressive Kings team willing to hurtle toward the rim and determined to run as much as possible.
Glen Davis, Ryan Anderson and Von Wafer provided a huge lift in the first half to try and make up for some of what was lost with Howard on the bench. The three combined for 51 points, 11 offensive rebounds (between Davis and Anderson only) and 17-for-36 shooting. It helped keep Orlando within striking distance after a slow start and in the lead for much of the second quarter and third quarter.
The bench had delivered. Then the starters closed.
Jameer Nelson, seemingly hesitant to shoot and more willing to pass and distribute all night, had a big shot to kick start a big run. Nelson drove all the way into the paint and got set to circle around when he pulled up and left a wide-open floater into the basket. The Magic went up 7-3 on the Kings during the next two minutes -- the final two minutes -- stretching a 95-92 lead to a 104-95 margin.
Hedo Turkgolu drove and kicked to find Ryan Anderson for a 3-pointer and then Nelson bulletted a pass to Turkoglu streaking to the basket for a lay-up in transition with 34 seconds left and an insurmountable seven-point lead.
The Magic had the hustle and composure to withstand msising Howard in the first half and then had the poise to close the game out. The Kings might have had some of the drive, but in a 104-97 loss, they showed they are not quite at even the Magic's level of play quite yet.
That is the closing you want to see from the Magic. Getting there though might have revealed more about the still hidden character for Orlando.
Dwight Howard picked up his second foul a mere 90 seconds into the game and was mired in foul trouble. He did not score or grab a rebound through the first half and finished the game with just five points, four rebounds and two field goal attempts. For all intents and purposes, Howard was a non-factor.
That made Davis' play that much more important. Davis put in his second great game in a row for the Magic. He let the offense come to him more and did a better job taking shots more within his range. Shooting 8 for 13 and scoring 20 points certainly suggests that. But it was more than that. This looked like the Davis who played for the Celtics and would absolutely bug opponents with his ability to sneak in and take a charge or his propensity to grab offensive rebounds at just the right moment.
If the Magic get more 20-point, 8-rebound, 5-offensive rebound performances from Davis off the bench, they will be in much better shape when it comes to Davis.
Not having Howard on the floor had its problems though. Davis is not as imposing as Howard and the Kings took advantage of the Magic not having a shot-blocking presence.
Sacramento was almost reckless going at the rim, if it were not their strategy. No matter who Stan Van Gundy put on Tyreke Evans, he could not get stopped -- even when he rolled his ankle and had to be carried off the floor right before halftime. Evans scored 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting and a 68.6 percent true shooting percentage thanks to 10 free throw attempts too. He also added eight assists.
When Van Gundy tried to double Evans with Davis or Anderson, Jason Thompson or J.J. Hickson came streaking down the middle of the paint free and Evans was still able to find them. The Magic defense really struggled at times containing the aggressive attacks from Evans and Sacramento.
But having Howard out had some benefits.
Orlando was forced to attack the basket itself and get the ball movement. The ball did not stick as it has sometimes this season.
Von Wafer provided a nice spark with 12 points off the bench in a planned appearance with Quentin Richardson still nursing that injured foot. Ryan Anderson did not settle for 3-pointers as he has throughout the season, getting to the offensive glass with six of his 11 rebounds coming on the offensive end. Anderson scored 19 points on 5-for-16 shooting and had eight free throw attempts -- he still attempted 11 3-pointers though.
Jason Richardson was the team's leading scorer with 22 points and was getting into a good rhythm shooting 9 for 16 for the game. He said after the game that he was trying to be more aggressive and energetic especially at the beginning of the game. He had a thunderous standing dunk off a baseline cut that showed just how much energy he had left.
With Howard struggling to stay on the court, it was contributions of these players that paced the Magic before they finally imposed their will and pulled away late in the game.
Defensively there are still spots the Magic need to improve. This game showed how much Orlando relies on Howard to clean up everything. But it also showed that this team can still grit and hustle its way to some wins. The question is now, can they put it all together against a solid Portland team Wednesday?