ORLANDO -- Uneasiness set in the Amway Center every time the ball came up the floor in the fourth quarter. Paul Porter had already announced two technical fouls in this game -- neither on Dwight Howard -- but everyone was waiting on bated breath for something to go wrong.
As the Cavaliers employed the Hack-A-Howard in the final stages of the fourth quarter, a move that reeks of desperation seemed to be the only way for them to stop a destructive Magic offense. Howard attempted a career-high 24 free throws, making on 13 and taking more free throws than the entire Cavaliers squad. It was the only way for Cleveland to stop Orlando's offense as the team's double-digit lead remained out of reach from the pesky Cleveland squad.
Without LeBron James in the lineup, the Cavaliers could not keep up with the Magic's offensive firepower and even with the defense lacking, the Magic earned a 111-100 win.
"We shot the ball well," Howard said. "Our intensity was a little low. It's something in the turkey that releases something in your body that causes you to be sluggish. The turkey got to us all."
Tryptophan-induced comas aside, the Magic never quite got their footing defensively. While the offense was raining 3-pointers and finding it easy to score, the defense was struggling to put the game away. Orlando led by double digits for almost the entire second half, but never got quite over the 20-point mark. In fact, the Magic never led by 20 points even though it felt like they would get there at any moment.
Howard scored 23 points on just nine field goals and grabbed 11 rebounds. Jameer Nelson posted 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting and had six assists and JJ Redick scored 15 points and had five assists in his second consecutive start. Quentin Richardson and Rashard Lewis added 14 points each as every starter for the Magic scored in double figures.
That was certainly not the issue tonight. Tonight the defense could not match the intensity of the offense.
Cleveland shot 47.1 percent from the floor and outrebounded Orlando 39-33 including grabbing 11 offensive rebounds and scoring 13 second-chance points. The Cavaliers were consistently able to get into the lane and to the rim.
Even with all that, Cleveland was never quite able to get over the hump. After trailing by 13 points at the half, the Cavaliers never came closer than nine. That was early in the fourth quarter on a Jamario Moon 3-pointer and Orlando went on a 5-0 run on a Marcin Gortat jumper and JJ Redick 3-pointer to get the lead comfortably back up to 14.
"It's the same old thing," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "With us right now, when the scoring is easy, we won't guard, and that's why we can't put games away. We play one end of the floor at a time, so we're not going to be in these challenges all the time."
The scoring came very easy, especially in the first half. The Magic shot an astounding 59.5 percent from the floor and hit on 11 of 20 3-pointers in the first half. According to the Advanced Stats Calculator, that was good enough for a 74.3 percent effective field goal percentage. The Magic also had 15 assists on those 22 first-half field goals. Offensive efficiency was certainly the name of the game early.
And Van Gundy was extremely happy with the ball movement in the first half and in the second half as well. Orlando was getting everyone involved and keeping Cleveland off-balance.
For the game, the Magic finished shooting 55.6 percent from the floor, hitting on 14 of 31 3-pointers (going only 3 for 11 in the second half) and dishing out 26 assists. Orlando shot a still solid 65.3 effective field goal percentage for the game. Offense, obviously was never a problem tonight, even with 3-pointers not falling as freely in the second half.
Defense remained enough of a worry to keep the game within striking distance.
"It wasn't good enough," Richardson said. "We made shots tonight and it countered that. Defensively, we didn't play as well as we're capable of and we know that and we know we have to get better. We can't afford to come out here on different nights and not have the intensity that we should."
Cleveland, again shot 47.1 percent for the game and 47.8 percent in the second half including six for 17 on 3-pointers. Orlando cleaned up its rebounding in the second half, winning that battle on the boards, but gave up 51 points in the final two quarters.
That certainly would not make very many coaches happy. Van Gundy pointed out the team's struggles to close out on 3-point shooters especially as an area the team has got to improve.
But generally defensive efforts like tonight's will not get the job done.
"We played well offensively and that was enough to get the job done," Van Gundy said. "I'm very happy with the win. I would like us to become a defensive team, I really would. Right now, either we don't want to do it or we're not capable of doing it. I don't know which.
"We have very high goals and we're not getting there with defense like that."