Three Thoughts after Magic's 109-95 Win over the Wizards
Howard, Bass, Blatche Dominate in Post Battle
Since Washington traded Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison, Andray Blatche has stepped up and become the focal point of Washington's offense. Since the trade, Blatche is averaging 24.5 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game. He has scored fewer than 15 points just once in that span and has reached 30 points three times. He had 30 points just once before the trade.
Even with Dwight Howard protecting the basket and being Dwight Howard, Blatche had his way inside. Blatche got Rashard Lewis into foul trouble early and scored a game-high 32 points to lead Washington to an early lead.
Taking that as a challenge, though, was Dwight Howard. Howard did not do too shabby himself. He worked his way easily through Fabricio Oberto, JaVale McGee and Blatche to 28 points. And unlike Blatche, he secured and dominated the glass with 15 rebounds. He had as many offensive rebounds as Blatche had total rebounds, four.
And it may not have been such a horrible thing to have Lewis (he scored just three points on 1-of-4 shooting) out of the game. Brandon Bass was more than serviceable, putting in one of his better performances in a Magic uniform and further cementing his role on the team as it gets closer to the postseason. Bass had 16 points and nine rebounds.
Orlando's big men did their job to help the team erase an early deficit and control the game throughout. The Magic outrebounded the Wizards 46-30 on the evening and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.
Blatche had a big scoring night (he shot 14 of 23) but Howard and Bass did a good job keeping both Blatche and McGee of the glass. The two combined for seven total rebounds. And three of Blatche's four rebounds came on the offensive end. It would prove difficult for Washington to score the upset when they were struggling to secure rebounds.
Redick or Carter? How About Both
Orlando struggled mightily in the first quarter and looked very sluggish. It was hard to believe that Washington was the one on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back. Howard did his best to keep the Magic in it, but it was his play in the second half and JJ Redick coming on to open the quarter that helped them close the gap and take the lead for good.
Redick had 18 points and shot five of nine. His +21 plus/minus helped Orlando turn a 33-20 first-quarter deficit into a 61-55 lead by halftime. He had 10 points in the second quarter and the Magic were well in control by the time he left the game.
Throughout the season, Redick has been solid when Vince Carter was not. Carter tonight was not spectacular but helped keep pace and provide an extra push.
Carter also had 18 points, shooting eight of 18. He did not do too much as his shot was not falling and he was not attacking the hole as aggressively as he could have. He finished -14, for what that value is worth. But did not seem to hurt the team as Orlando maintained a steady lead.
Now the Fun Really Begins
The win was the Magic's eighth straight. It is the team's longest winning streak since
2000-01 2005-06 and is one shy of the team record set in 1994-95.
But all is not peachy.
Orlando came out really sluggish and unwilling to defend. Washington got lots of easy cuts and drives to the basket with little impediment or deterrence. Yes, the Wizards were also hitting a lot of shots too. But the defensive effort early was troubling.
The Magic certainly did a good job mounting a comeback and holding the Wizards back to pull away. Washington failed to score more than 22 (their second quarter total) in any quarter after their 33-point outburst in the first.
It is difficult to say whether this will continue though. Orlando heads home to take on Charlotte on Sunday. It is the first team the Magic will have played that is in postseason position since either Thursday's game against the Bulls or March 7's game against the Lakers depending on how you define playoff positioning.
During the eight-game win streak, Orlando's opponents have a .395 win percentage. The schedule will get tougher, to say the least. The Magic's next five opponents (the Bobcats, Spurs, Heat, 76ers and Hawks) have a .528 win percentage and four of the five are competing for a playoff spot. That is much different than the teams Orlando has been facing lately.
The Magic have been playing fantastic basketball lately and look to be rounding into good form for the postseason (just a little more than a month away now). This year, even, they have struggled putting away some bad teams.
But this next stretch of games will be more of a real measuring stick.