14 April 2007

Shine On Me: Magic 104, 76ers 87

Grant Hill has plenty to clap about. Although he didn't have a great game, one of his teammates sure did, and it could not have come at a better time for the Magic.

I'll let Dwight Howard's linescore speak for itself:
35 points, 14-15 field goals, 7-10 free throws, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals in 43 minutes.

Shaq who?

The Magic went into Philadelphia today and made a huge statement by blowing out the 76ers and ending that team's remote playoff hopes. The Magic themselves increased their lead over Indiana for the 8th playoff spot in the East to two games.

It's one thing to pick up a win after a heartbreaking loss. It's quite another to go into another team's home floor and lead wire-to-wire in a double-digit victory. For me, the most pleasing numbers in this game's box score aren't those next to Dwight's name. In fact, the numbers to which I am alluding don't come next to any player's name. No, they're the quarter-by-quarter scores. We outscored Philly in each quarter, refusing to let up even when it became apparent that they didn't have a chance.

Really, it's hard to think of anything that went wrong for us today, except for Darko Milicic's embarrassing missed dunk.

On an individual level, there was Dwight's incredible performance, which included an improbable 13-foot bank shot from the left wing. Darko scored 14, including back-to-back 19-footers from the top of the key. Even Keith Bogans played well, scoring 5 points and grabbing 3 rebounds in only 8 minutes of action, which he probably would not have seen if J.J. Redick had not been deactivated due to a sore quad muscle.

The collective numbers are also good. We shot 53% while holding the 76ers to just 39%. We scored 104 points, the fifth time in this month's six games that we've exceeded 100 -- and the exception was against Detroit, against which we scored 99. Impressively, we had 25 assists on 43 field goals, and five players recorded at least three assists. In my recap for the Pistons game, I wrote that the Magic played as individuals rather than as a team, and that proved to be their undoing. Credit Brian Hill and the rest of the coaching staff for stressing ball movement and unselfish play in practice this week.

I can only hope that today's high level of play can carry over until tomorrow's game with Boston, which has shut down Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson, its two best players, for the rest of the season. The Celtics have guaranteed the league's second-worst record and, as such, their draft lottery position is assured. In other words, they're just playing out the season and waiting for the draft. If the Magic win -- and they should, barring a letdown of colossal proportions -- and the Pacers lose their game with the Nets, we'd clinch a playoff berth. So, as counterintuitive as it seems, we actually become Net fans tomorrow; after that, we can curse them all they want, as we want to steal the 7th playoff spot from them.

Summarily, we've played better in April than our 3-3 record indicates, even considering that our 3 wins came against some dreadful teams. If we keep playing this way for the rest of the season, we'll have a great deal of confidence heading into the playoffs. In an earlier entry, I wrote that the Magic needed to make a fourth quarter surge. Well, they've done that. Now all they have to do is keep it up.

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