If ever there was an argument for Steve Nash to be a constant MVP candidate, tonight may have given it. Nash is not winning the MVP award this year -- and plenty of NBA fans continue to debate the merit of the two he won. But as far as a "take a guy off the team and that team immediately is completely different and without hope of anything" guy, Nash might be one or two.
Nash sat out Thursday's game with a strained groin -- an injury he was fighting off even as he played Wednesday night in Miami -- and you could see the difference in the way the Suns played. Without a solid post presence and little defense to speak of, Phoenix relied on its 3-point shooting to pray for any chance at Amway Center. That did not happen.
Orlando won easily 105-89.
This was hardly a game where you could take a whole bunch out of. Orlando's defense was very good as Phoenix could not hit shots and without Steve Nash probing the defense and creating havoc on the interior, Phoenix's offense was reduced to... well, it was difficult to figure out what it was reduced to. Grant Hill was able to create for himself. Hedo Turkoglu was not. And neither was anyone else.
The 14-point final deficit was hardly how much Orlando won this game by. The Magic led by as much as 32 and took complete control early in the first quarter -- finishing that quarter with a 31-15 advantage. This game was a laugher fairly quickly as Orlando was passing the ball very well and getting the Suns to bite down on Dwight Howard in the post in ridiculous numbers.
Howard's passing out of the double team was very good as he got the ball back to the perimeter and they did the rest in getting the ball to the open man. Early on it was Quentin Richardson and Vince Carter attacking and Jameer Nelson making good decisions and running the offense. Nelson had eight of his 12 assists in the first half.
Dwight Howard got his too, taking advantage of Phoenix's lack of size inside with a team-high 20 points and 12 assists. Everyone else did too. The Suns were not playing very much defense and the Magic were aggressive and taking advantage of it.
Even the struggling Rashard Lewis had his way. And most of that came in the post. Lewis scored 13 points, hitting one of his two 3-point attempts and six of nine from the floor overall. Carter took up a big part of that mantle too with 13 points (all in the first half).
Honestly none of the big players were much needed in the second half, although their presence and occasional sharp focus was enough to extend the lead.
Orlando shot 54.1 percent from the floor and 10 for 25 from beyond the arc. Only a 14-point fourth quarter where the reserves were in and both teams were playing a pick up-style of basketball. According to the Advanced Stats Calculator, Orlando posted a 120.0 offensive rating. Surely that number would have been higher if it were not for that fourth quarter and the basically 12 minutes of garbage time that came with it.
Phoenix, on the other hand, was completely ineffective offensively. Goran Dragic was never really looking to attack, scoring 10 points and dishing out four assists. Hedo Turkoglu, with the opportunity to become the ball-dominating point forward he was in Orlando. Instead Turkoglu continued to struggle -- and settle for jumpers -- and scored two points, failing to hit a field goal and spending five of his eight field goals on 3-pointers.
The Suns, a normally super efficient and high-scoring offense was limited to 89 points on 45.6 percent shooting (and really it was worse than that). Their offensive rating was approximately 101.7. And, again, it could have been much worse except for a listless fourth quarter with the game already in hand.
Phoenix did not provide the test Orlando fans were hoping for, but Orlando continued to roll even with certain parts of the offense not clicking. The Magic are a very dominant defensive team right now and are finding ways to win and flat out dominate.