HOWARD WORKS WONDERS
By Brian Schmitz | Sentinel Staff Writer
Saturday, November 08, 2008 | Home Game
The Orlando Magic are doing a recall on the start of their season.
Trying to put their 0-2 start behind them at warp speed, the Magic are beginning to resemble the team that won 52 games and reached the second round of the playoff party.
They won their fourth consecutive game, and it appears they have come out of whatever funk they were in.
"We're getting there," forward Rashard Lewis said after the Magic trounced the winless Washington Wizards 106-81 Saturday night at Amway Arena.
The Magic go for five in a row Monday night at home against the Portland Trail Blazers, looking to match their longest winning streak of last season.
After going through some offensive malfunctions and turnover trouble that turned big leads into rooftop chases, they have settled down, cherished the ball more and remembered why it's always good to give the ball to Dwight Howard.
The Magic allowed the Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers to creep back into games, but they piled it on the outmanned Wizards (0-5), never trailing. They shot well to jump to a 19-point halftime lead and stretched it to as many as 29 as Howard manhandled the Wiz for 31 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.
"We held the lead," point guard Jameer Nelson said. "Lately, we've been getting good leads. Not necessarily losing all the leads, but [letting] the game get interesting."
And it has been the defense that has made the biggest intervention. The Magic have given up fewer points every game since losing to Memphis 86-84 on Oct. 31.
"I'm really happy with a lot of things; very, very happy with our defense," Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Dwight has been more of a presence this season. It gives the other guys confidence. They can get into people more, knowing he's got their back. To a man, we're certainly playing better defense than we did last year."
Mickael Pietrus added 18 points, and Keith Bogans had 13 to highlight a banner night off the bench. The reserves had their most productive game of the young season, accounting for 35 points.
The three key subs -- shooting guard Bogans, forward-center Tony Battie (8 points) and point guard Anthony Johnson (8) -- gave Van Gundy no reason to change his eight-man rotation plan.
Van Gundy would have stuck with it for a second consecutive game, but sometimes there will be blood.
He had to trot out rookie guard Courtney Lee late in the second after Pietrus had to leave for repairs following a clash of heads with Wizards forward Caron Butler. Butler also needed a cut-man, but both players returned sporting Band-Aids.
Van Gundy said he was waiting for his shooters to heat up, and the Magic sizzled from tip-off.
They made 11 of 19 shots in the opening quarter to lead 27-21, and better yet, committed zero turnovers.
The Magic then broke open the game in the second period. They hit 12 of 20 shots, including some long lost 3-pointers, to lead 58-39 at halftime.
After making the second-most 3-pointers in NBA history last season (801), the Magic struggled at 31 percent entering the game, but they nailed 4 of 6 from downtown in the second quarter. Back-to-back 3s from Pietrus and Bogans pushed the lead to 14 at 42-38.
Howard was not only dominating, but Van Gundy said he saw more patience. "He wasn't forcing anything, he was making great plays and letting the game come to him," Van Gundy said. "I've seen him have numbers like that before, but I'm not sure he's played a better since I've been here."
Howard was just glad his team is playing the way it did last season. He conceded it felt the pressure of expectations early on. "I think we were. So many people expect us to blow teams out. We have a big target on our backs. We were thinking too much, not wanting to mess up at home, not wanting to look bad," he said. "Now we're just having fun and playing."
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