You could tell there was a different air about the team immediately. The crowd let out a cathartic ovation for Dwight Howard in the pregame introductions and the team looked loose and relaxed playing.
Maybe a little too loose and relaxed at times. But certainly more than enough against a Nets team playing without its best player and its starting center. New Jersey could not seem to get out of its own way as Orlando ran the score up in the third and early fourth quarters.
The biggest complaint was that the play was at times too sloppy and that the Magic looked to make too many "highlight plays." It was not perfect at all. It was enough. And it looked like a different team out on the floor. A much more relaxed team.
The Nets did not offer much of a challenge, bricking shot after shot in an 86-70 loss at Amway Center on Friday. The Magic could celebrate a very easy win.
Orlando was rarely behind in this one, racing out to an 11-4 lead and rarely saw a challenge. The Magic opened the lead into the teens in the second quarter with an energetic effort from the sometimes troubled second unit. Glen Davis had two dunks (yes, two dunks) on his way to 13 points in the game.
The little spurts of energy were more than enough against a Nets team that shot 33.7 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 13 times. New Jersey was just not shooting well enough to make very many mistakes. Yet, that is who this team is. You could not say anyone on the team played a good game except perhaps Gerald Green who scored 14 points after making his first six shots.
This game was all about Dwight Howard and the weight taken off his and this franchise's shoulders. Howard had an unremarkable, yet still noticeable, 18-point, 6-rebound night. He only went to the line three times and took only 10 shots. It was probably the quietest he had been all week. His three blocks probably sent bigger statements about where the Magic were and who they were going to be on this night than anything else.
It just was not the prettiest game in the world. It was certainly enough.
Orlando made runs, anchored by Howard in the post, and hit 3-pointers at the right moments. Jameer Nelson hit three of his four 3-pointers on his way to 13 points. If it were not for 20 turnovers -- four each from Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu -- the Magic would have had an even bigger blowout. The fourth quarter was spent mostly with the lead int he 20s. So it did not matter, just a nit for Stan Van Gundy to pick.
And the team knows it has to play more consistently. It was just tough to get the focus up in the second half with the Nets unable to make a run.
You could sense this was the kind of game Orlando needed. After a bunch of hard games against the league's best and an emotional week with trade speculation coming to a close, an easy game where the mind could wander might have been good. This team looked like it was having fun again. That is incredibly important if the team is going to become a championship contender come April and May and (maybe) June.
Now will be the time to not have many more of these dominant, but sloppy games and start building up toward the Playoffs to come.
For now, though, it was time to enjoy the minor victory of having everything settled off the court for the first time. Basketball is what is most important now for the franchise. This team is ready to move forward.