Magic 99, Bucks 82
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)
Vince Carter sat in a chair at his locker, head down, an ice bag ready, pouring a bottle of water over his head for an ever-so small sense of rejuvenation.
Sure seemed that way on the court, too.
The struggling shooting guard had by far his most efficient game in more than a month, giving Orlando its seventh win in eight games. Carter had shot just 28 percent in January.
``Maybe January just wasn't my month,'' he said.
Charlie Bell and Luke Ridnour had 13 points apiece for the Bucks, who had their three-game winning streak snapped. Milwaukee fell to 0-3 against Orlando this season.
And Carter, who had 25 points in a win against Milwaukee on Nov. 30, again was a big reason why.
``Maybe he's coming out of his funk,'' Bell said. ``He's been a great player in this league for a long time. He's one of those guys who's not going to miss shots forever.''
Carter finally showed signs of breaking out of his slump, giving the Magic a much-needed boost. They were playing without Jameer Nelson (hyperextended left knee) and Mickael Pietrus (sprained right ankle).
It didn't seem to matter.
``He has to remember who he is,'' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of Carter. ``He's had one bad month, but he has had an unbelievable career.''
Carter was back in attack mode on offense, just as he was when he was with the New Jersey Nets. And maybe there was a good reason.
Former Nets coach Lawrence Frank was sitting about five rows behind Orlando's bench and will be observing practices this week, offering advice to the Magic staff. Frank, fired in November after an 0-16 start, coached Carter the last five years until he was traded to Orlando last offseason with Ryan Anderson.
But Van Gundy insisted he asked Frank more than a month ago for friendly advice on his team, saying the timing had nothing to do with Carter's struggles.
``We briefly talked right before the beginning of shootaround,'' Carter said. ``We chatted briefly, and it wasn't even about basketball.''
Whatever the reason, the eight-time All-Star was back to his old self early.
After the Magic went down by 12 points in the opening quarter, Carter was dishing and driving with the kind of aggressiveness that had been missing during his slump. He made a pair of 3-pointers to finish with 15 points at halftime, leading a big push that gave Orlando a 50-36 lead at the break.
Asked what this game meant for his confidence, Carter said it never wavers. He also couldn't resist a chance to make a joke.
``Yeah, to keep you guys off my back,'' Carter told reporters, smiling. He later added, ``Most of the frustration comes from everybody always harping on it. And I understand that, the different facets of the game and what comes with it. I just say keep playing.''
Bell's 3-pointer capped a 9-2 run to start the third quarter, cutting Orlando's lead to 52-45. But the Bucks simply didn't have the depth or the defense to keep pace with the Magic.
``We got off to a decent start and we had some pretty good ball movement, but we can see our guys even winding down a little bit during that period of time,'' Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. ``They basically outplayed us on every spot on the floor, except for the first few minutes of the game.''
Especially in the paint.
Dwight Howard sprinted out to block a 17-foot jumper by Kurt Thomas, his fifth of the game, in the final minute of the third period, sending the ball into the front row - the third time in the game he swatted a shot into the stands.
Howard, who finished with 22 points, came back on the other end with a two-handed alley-oop dunk on a pass by Jason Williams that wasn't even that close to the rim. Orlando eventually went ahead 77-57 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Howard also was hit in the nose by Thomas on another alley-oop attempt. He missed the shot - and the free throws - and the hit spewed enough blood it forced him to temporarily stick a tissue in his left nostril to stop the bleeding.
Something Milwaukee could never do.
NOTES: Van Gundy said the last thing he plans to do when he coaches the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game Feb. 14 is, well, coach. ``I'm not coaching people. I'm not going to be yelling and screaming at guys. Maybe Dwight,'' he said, smiling. ``Maybe Dwight.'' ... Bucks rookie PG Brandon Jennings was one of four players selected to compete in the skills challenge during All-Star weekend.