There really is nothing that could happen in one game for the Orlando Magic that could possibly make up for what Dwight Howard put them through a season ago, considering the way he forced his way out of town and left the franchise in a full-blown rebuilding situation.
But for a single night, the Magic and their fans got everything they could have asked for.
Orlando not only beat the Lakers in Los Angeles, but did so by humiliating Howard in the process. A 40-point fourth quarter and some timely missed free throws from Dwight powered the Magic to a 113-103 win at Staples Center, a result that dropped the Lakers to a record of just eight wins against nine losses on the season.
The loss part wasn’t so surprising if you’ve watched the Lakers at all this season. In games where they’ve failed to bring the intensity defensively from the very start, lesser talented teams have been able to hang around and gain confidence to the point where it becomes too late to stop them.
Howard’s performance on the night was a bit of a surprise, however, and the team seemed to take his lead a bit from an energy standpoint. It’s not as if Howard had any reason to ratchet up his game against his former team after the way he did them, as he clearly got what he wanted while Orlando was left trying to pick up the pieces. But still, an above average energy level would have been nice.
Instead, Howard managed 21 points and 15 rebounds on 6-of-13 shooting. That may seem like a good game, until you realize that seven of those rebounds came in the first quarter, and nine of those points were scored in the fourth quarter — and seven of those came at the free throw line.
Ah, yes. The free throws.
Howard finished the night 9-for-21 from the foul line, good for just 42.9 percent. He’s the first Laker to attempt more than 20 free throws while making less than 50 percent since Shaquille O’Neal back in 2004, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That was a non-championship year for the Lakers, and Shaq’s final one in Los Angeles, so it’s not exactly a statistic you want to see duplicated if you’re the Lakers.
More important than the sheer volume of Howard’s free throw misses was the way that they came, which was after the Magic went to the strategy of intentionally fouling him at various times throughout the night. Your math may vary depending on which side of the Hack-A-[blank] argument you come out on, but there’s no denying that if missed free throws by the target of the strategy on one end are followed by made threes by the team doing the fouling on the other, it’s unbeatable. And that’s pretty much how it went for Orlando in the fourth quarter of this one.
The Lakers did some curious things with their rotations, getting Devin Ebanks some random minutes for no apparent reason, while Jordan Hill — an energy player who actually might have helped on this night — received a DNP-CD. Jodie Meeks, he of the seven three-pointers in Friday night’s win over the Nuggets, similarly was used sparingly to the tune of just nine minutes off the bench.
The Magic got solid performances all around, led by a 30-point, five-rebound, five-assist night from Arron Afflalo, 23 points and 12 rebounds from Glen Davis, and 19 points and 13 assists from Jameer Nelson. But a reality check shows that this is a team that came into Sunday night at just 5-10 on the season; this wasn’t as much about the Magic’s strength as it was about the Lakers’ weakness.
As Dwight paraded to the line with his team trailing and continued to miss after the Magic continued to put him there on purpose, his former fans in Orlando must have been beside themselves with glee. They deserve it, too. While the damage Howard did to the franchise will quite literally take multiple seasons to repair, the very least the Magic can do is make the limited time they spend with him in the future as miserable as possible.