Ah yes, the chance that Chris Duhon and Earl Clark were waiting for. An opportunity to defeat their former Orlando employers. Oh yeah, there was that 'Dwightmare' thing too. The old Superman was extra composed and displayed little emotion Sunday morning when chatting with familiar Orlando media faces. Howard didn't want to reminisce much aside from his old trips to "Waffle House" and "Altamonte Theater". Well Dwight can reminisce about the dreaded 'Hack-A-Howard' foul strategy coming back from the grave and haunting D12 at the free throw line. Savor this sweet taste of revenge, Magic nation. Dwight's kryptonite came to life and snakebit Howard as Dwight's headband must have been cutting circulation from his brain ever so tightly with every free throw attempt. A phenomenal 113-103 winning result that was rewarding for Magic fans around the globe. Be proud of Jacque Vaughn's staff and roster. Such a superb way to begin a 5-game Western Conference road trip as the Magic improved to 6-10. It's December, and Mike D'Antoni's Lakers are 8-9. No one could vision Los Angeles being under .500 at this point in the year.
The Magic put on a ball movement clinic. A masterful season-high of 34 assists on forty-three made field goals, as well as a season-best 10 blocks. Orlando is now 2-0 when shooting 50 FG% or more. Even when Orlando led by nine points, Coach Vaughn initiated the Hack-A-Howard. In eight years, I've never seen Hack-A-Howard be as successfully implemented as Jacque was able to manage tonight. Bravo, sir. Vaughn has indeed picked up some valuable items from Gregg Popovich. Dwight was a pitiful 9-of-21 from the line and his 21 points and 15 rebounds is meaningless after this blue and white result. Even better? Nik Vucevic posted 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks as 'Vucci Mane' put on a jam showcase against the former dunk champion in Dwight.
Lost in the Howard shuffle was all the Magic player and coaching ties to the Los Angeles area. Afflalo who is from Compton and went to UCLA scored a season-high 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting while having to deal with Kobe on both ends of the floor. Vucevic has his USC Trojan ties. Jacque Vaughn went to school in California and even a few assistants have a relationship with that state. Orlando was desperate to end a 3-game losing streak and wanted to subconsciously stick it to Dwight and the over-hyped Lakers. Mission accomplished.
Jameer Nelson is an all business type of personality, but man was 'Mighty Mite' extra serious in the shootaround interview when it came to matters about Dwight. His stern mood lightened when Serena Williams and Jack Nicholson were thrown into the conversation. Problematic achilles tendon or not, if the co-captain could walk then you knew he'd play. And play he did. Jameer finished with 19 points and 13 assists. That's one dime shy of his career-high. It reminded many of Nelson's All-Star season visit to Staples Center in 2009. Let's add Glen Davis' 23 points & 12 rebounds as well as JJ Redick's 14 points & 7 assists off the pine as memorable performances on this young season. When everyone looks back at this 2012-2013 campaign, mark this win at Staples Center as one of the team's best.
After the Brooklyn loss on Friday, Glen backed up his words on becoming more aggressive in the first quarter. Big Baby was hellbent on getting into the paint and earning free throw line trips. Magic fans will gladly take 8 first period points. Vucevic's size and strong low base made life very difficult for Dwight to find any first quarter rhythm. Coach Vaughn went about things differently than usual Sunday evening. Jacque played his starters longer than normal, and he even called two timeouts to keep his squad focused and composed. I'm still perplexed as to why Dwight referred to Jameer as "Tasha" while Nelson was shooting free throws. Insider joke? After twelve minutes, the Lakers led 27-23.
The 2nd quarter found the Magic trying to keep the deficit small with an E'Twaun, Redick, DeQuan, McRoberts, O'Quinn lineup. The 'slower' Nicholson and Ayon were not favored by Jacque. No bad critiques here, it paid off. Especially with O'Quinn whose 6 points, 2 blocks and overall paint presence were more valuable than the stat sheet will show. Orlando relied on four men to pour in points in that half: Jameer (9), Redick (11), Glen (12), and Afflalo (14). Thanks to a 21-12 run to end the period, the Magic were tied heading into the locker room at 52-52 after Afflalo drilled a buzzer beating 3-pointer. This was no ordinary game, the energy and 'juice' could be felt from these Magic players.
Throw the win-loss records out the window. The third period was high-entertainment value with a lot of physicality and uptempo offense being displayed. Even the ugly sequences were fun to watch. Josh McRoberts got in a shove match with Dwight as Howard was exerting his elbow illegal advantage on 'McBob'. The Lakers did gain a bit of separation in the final 2 minutes of the third, but the fire to compete and win wouldn't die for the Magic. Then Vaughn employed the forever famed 'Hack-A-Howard'. It worked as Dwight missed 3-of-4 at the stripe and Orlando only trailed 77-73 entering the 4th quarter.
The script all season for this Magic roster has been fighting and battling to the end. Unfortunately, it hasn't necessarily led to victories. Was there anything left in the gas tank this time? Glen and O'Quinn believed so. Their motors and hustle set the pace for the memorable 4th period that can only be described as basketball porn. Nothing like celebrating over missed Duhon jumpers and Dwight clanking free throws while Jamer is drilling one clutch shot after another, Redick is burying daggers from deep (including a 3-ball that put Orlando up 95-89 with 3:41 to go), Afflalo is pulling a successful one-man transition act, and Vucevic is proving to be like a man among boys in the paint. The Hack-A-Howard was so brilliant in many ways including the fact that Kobe Bryant wasn't allowed to play 'hero ball'. It's not like Kobe had a bad game either, 34 points, but Orlando neutralized his effective potential down the stretch by fouling Dwight constantly. Now the Magic have the rough task in relaxing themselves again and studying up on a great Golden State Warriors team for Monday night's contest. It's Orlando's only back-to-back on this trip.