At a time when any win is promising, the Orlando Magic took it to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, building a 27-point first-half lead and winning 109-98. Dwight Howard led the Magic with 32 points and 11 rebounds and held Roy Hibbert to three points, avenging a Pacers loss two weeks ago when Hibbert scored a career-high 26 points. Rashard Lewis (18 points), Jason Williams (14 points, 9 assists) and Matt Barnes (10 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists) also played well.
Coming off a disappointing road swing where the Magic lost their last three games, the frustration clearly showed early on. They doubled-up the Pacers in the first quarter, going up 40-20 behind 6-of-8 shooting from deep and 12 points from Dwight Howard. The Pacers, whose lineup is almost back to full strength sans Tyler Hansbrough, could do little to stop the Magic when they’re on their game.
From there the Magic cruised, eventually allowing the Pacers to within seven points in the fourth quarter but never really letting the game’s result come into question.
Some Magic fans are perturbed that Orlando allowed Indiana to come back and make a game of it — to which I say, are you crazy? When your team has dropped seven of 10 including losses to Washington, Toronto and Indiana, you take a fast start and a comfortable victory with a smile and a pepsi. The win felt particularly good for the home crowd, who saw several vintage Howard dunks and an early 3-point barrage that had the arena rocking.
Howard — after a tumultuous couple of days weeks
years where his offensive development came under constant scrutiny — couldn’t be stopped on a variety of dunks/lay-ins/putbacks/free throws. As the Pacers employed the insta-foul strategy whenever he got near the hoop, Howard made them pay by hitting 16 of 24 free throws. Troy Murphy spent much of the second half defending Howard, which was no coincidence considering he was out of foul trouble. But if you’re a coach who selects Troy Murphy to guard Dwight Howard, you’re probably not envisioning much one-on-one, Perkins-like defense.
Barnes filled up the first-quarter box score, totaling 4 points, 5 assists and 6 rebounds in the first 12 minutes. His energy continues to ignite the Magic; if he could cut down on the unforced mistakes, he’d play 40 minutes every night. But Barnes is 29 years old and not about to change now.
Looking up and down the roster after a win like this, it’s difficult to find a player to scrutinize. But then there’s Mr. Scrutiny, Vince Carter. After the game, Stan Van Gundy said the media is scrutinizing Carter’s game too much, a comment that will surely illicit plenty of response
Carter’s 2-of-8, 6-point day was hardly something to remember. He’s averaging 7.6 points per game in January, and he hasn’t scored double-digits since Jan. 1 (12 points against Minnesota). His health is definitely a top concern. There’s something wrong. But we won’t find out if we don’t scrutinize, and that’s what plenty of those in the Media will be doing in the near and distant future.
For now, enjoy the victory. It wasn’t perfect, but the team is improving, and after the past couple weeks that’s all you can really ask for.