No player on the Magic has probably taken more heat than Rashard Lewis this early in the season. Lewis was largely invisible to this point in the season, drawing the ire of Magic fans who expect more from the highest paid player on the team.
In yet another ugly game with the Bobcats, Lewis shined the brightest in the second half as the Magic pulled away for an 18-point lead and then held on for a 91-88 win over the Bobcats on Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Lewis scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half and hit five of seven 3-pointers for the game. Lewis was the hero who helped Orlando turn its lead to as much as 18 points in the third quarter. But the hero is going to be Quentin Richardson.
Charlotte put together a frenzied rally to get the game tight. Vince Carter slipped on a wet spot near mid court (made wet after Stephen Jackson flopped while trying to take a charge on Carter), leading to a panicked ending. Boris Diaw scooped up the loose ball from Carter's slip and layed it in. A technical foul from an irate Stan Van Gundy pulled Charlotte within five.
The Magic were then sent into near panic mode as their best one-on-one scorer and their crunch time finisher (argue over that statement later, Magic fans) was taken out of the game. Some crazed passing and failed penetration led to what should have amounted to an empty possession. But Lewis squeezed his way past Gerald Wallace and hit a mid-range jumper to extend the lead to six.
Gerald Wallace's three cut it back to three and Orlando went back into another frenzied possession that ended with a rushed shot as the shot clock expired -- this time, a missed runner by Chris Duhon that Quentin Richardson failed to put back.
Stephen Jackson closed the lead to one when Quentin Richardson came around a vicious Dwight Howard screen and made a layup with 9.8 seconds left. This, of course, after Duhon struggled to get the ball to Dwight Howard or Rashard Lewis and had to hurry to distribute the ball.
It probably was not the ideal way to end a game, but Orlando got its first crunch-time win of the season and all the Ws count the same. Even after being outscored 26-18 in the final 12 minutes and sleepwalking (Stan Van Gundy called it one of the worst defensive performances of the season) after going up 18 and hoisting up shots early in the shot clock all night, the Magic got a win. Probably more of a testament to how offensively inept the Bobcats are.
Lewis is the biggest take away from this game. 22 points, five of seven from long range and 8 of 13 from the floor. A very solid outing. His effective field goal percentage was an astounding 80.8 percent tonight and an 81.8 true shooting percentage. Those are far better than the 36.2 percent eFG% and 39.0 percent TS% he has posted thus far this season. It would have been fair to jump on Lewis for not having more games like tonight.
It was good to see Lewis get back on track.
Aside from him, it was Dwight Howard who did a lot of the offensive heavy lifting.
Howard scored eight of the first 10 points for Orlando and finished with 22 on the night, working his way very comfortably around Nazr Mohammed and whoever the Bobcats threw at him. This was not the same smothering and frustrating defense Howard saw in the first round of last year's playoffs. Howard looked dominant as he usually does on both sides of the floor. It is almost to the point wherethese type of performances are becoming commonplace and (gasp) taken for granted.
But even with Howard and Lewis playing well -- not to mention Chris Duhon stepping in admirably for Jameer Nelson in dishing out nine assists and recording zero turnovers -- the offense lagged behind the defense and struggled against a defense that has not been playing up to its expected level.
Orlando shot only 41.5 percent and went through spurts where the team settled for ill-advised and quick jumpers. The Magic made 10 of 32 3-pointers and no one exemplified this quick shot mentality more than Richardson. Richardson hit only three of his 10 3-point attempts. What he is doing taking 10 3-pointers is another question entirely. Orlando settled for these quick jumpers for a good portion of the night, and that was the portion Orlando struggled.
The Magic posted a pedestrian 100.7 offensive rating. Far below the standard expected from this offense. Luckily the defense was solid and kept Charlotte in check for much of the night -- really only the fourth quarter run was the only time Charlotte got its offense going.
Turnovers played a big part in taking the Bobcats out of a good offensive rhythm. Charlotte had a higher field goal percentage, 48.0 percent, than Orlando but 16 turnovers did Charlotte in. Orlando took advantage, especially, early to take control.
Orlando got some good minutes from its bench -- especially Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat -- but also got some poor minutes from them too. They had issues creating offense and allowed Charlotte back into the game early in the fourth quarter.
All around though, it was a good team effort to scramble and pick up the win. And that is all that will matter. Vince Carter strained his hip flexor and is day-to-day. Nelson too is day-to-day, although Stan Van Gundy expects him to be back at some point this week. Those injuries will cause some concern. But Orlando once again proved it has the weapons to potentially overcome these types of injuries.
And, of course, defense will eventually rule the day. And the defense was good enough to pick up a victory tonight.