Ryan Anderson admits he’s been joking with Rashard Lewis about who will be the Orlando Magic’s starting power forward when the All-Star returns from suspension.
For now, it’s no joke: Anderson is filling in just fine.
Anderson had 20 and 10 rebounds, Dwight Howard scored 25 and the short-handed Orlando Magic defeated the previously unbeaten Phoenix Suns 122-100 on Wednesday night.
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“How can I control it? I can’t do much more than what I’m doing now,” Anderson said about the starting spot. “I have a great opportunity to play now. Of course, it’s Rashard Lewis. It’s a given he’s going to play. He’s an All-Star. He’s going to help this team when he comes back. It will be great to even be his backup.”
Playing without injured Vince Carter and Lewis, the Magic built a 23-point lead in the third quarter to pull away from the Suns.
Amare Stoudemire finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds for Phoenix (4-1), which was looking to match the 1984-85 team for the franchise’s best start. The Suns had come back from deficits in the first half but never did come close after the Magic built a big lead late.
“Well, dreams of an undefeated season have gone down,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.
Jameer Nelson added 16 points, and Mickael Pietrus had 15 points for the Magic. And they did it despite Carter missing the game with a sprained left ankle that coach Stan Van Gundy said doesn’t appear serious, while Lewis is suspended for the first 10 games after testing positive for an elevated level of testosterone.
Van Gundy said he was impressed how Anderson came off his only poor performance this season Tuesday night, when he was 1 for 11 from 3-point range.
But he has said from the beginning of the season that Lewis will start when he returns. Anderson, who came over in the trade with Carter from New Jersey this summer, is only giving Orlando an added and perhaps overlooked piece.
“I’ve coached for a long time in a lot of different levels, and I’ve complained about a lot of things. I never recall myself upset or complaining that I have too many good players,” Van Gundy said. “There the ones it will be tough on, not me. It will be easier on me. I’ll have more options.”
The Magic turned a close game into a blowout.
Led by a powerful performance by its front court, Orlando opened the third quarter with a 16-4 spurt. Howard and Anderson were slicing through the paint for dunks, and their dominant play inside opened up shots on the perimeter that Orlando – at times – couldn’t seem to miss.
The Magic shot 52.2 percent from 3-point range and 52.3 percent from the field for the game. But they didn’t get much resistance.
The Suns started slow for the second straight night.
Orlando used a flurry of 3-pointers, including a pair by Anderson, to take a 14-point lead in the first quarter that didn’t last long. The Magic started missing, the Suns started running – as they so often do – and ended the period on a 12-2 run that tightened the gap to 29-25.
That seemed to be the early pattern.
The Magic’s starters returned in the second quarter and, at first, hardly missed. That potent 3-point attack was in full force, with J.J. Redick and Pietrus connecting to open up an 11-point lead.
“I think they were pretty upset about the loss in Detroit the night before,” Stoudemire said. “They came out and pretty much took it out on us.”
Howard picked up his third foul with 4:46 remaining in the half after he got tangled up with Jarron Collins underneath the basket. Then Howard picked up a technical foul for arguing.
Steve Nash and Stoudemire had the fast pace, pick-and-roll offense going strong early. And the pair helped the Suns trim Orlando’s halftime lead to 58-52 with Howard on the bench.
In defense of his player, Van Gundy said the NBA has always treated perimeter players like Cleveland’s LeBron James and Miami’s Dwyane Wade differently.
“We don’t let people bang on them like that,” Van Gundy said. “I think there’s a double standard on the way they call it. My personal thing is I think the league loves the perimeter play and is not so fond of inside play. But with all that said, and those are just my opinions, Dwight knows how the game is called and he’s just got to deal with it.”
NOTES: Phoenix played without Leandro Barbosa, who has battled a sore right wrist since the summer. … Pietrus returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with flu-like symptoms. He came off the bench in place of Matt Barnes.