Magic's role players key in win over Knicks
NEW YORK — Magic forward Ryan Anderson sat at his locker before Orlando's matinee showdown with the New York Knicks on Monday, taking it easy while his teammates warmed up after a frigid Manhattan night left him feeling under the weather.
But a case of the sniffles wasn't going to get the best of Anderson, and he proved as much by responding with the best game of his career as the Magic rallied for a 102-93 win at Madison Square Garden.
The fourth-year man and former New Jersey Net scored a career-high 30 points on 11 of 19 shooting and hit a career-high seven 3-pointers on a career-high 13 attempts. Anderson also set career highs in field goals attempted (19) and field goals made (11) while pushing his league-leading 3-point total to 43 and raising his 3-point percentage to 44.7 for the season.
The performance didn't necessarily come as a shock, given that Anderson is second only to Dwight Howard on the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game, but it did serve as yet another reminder that the Magic still have what it takes to be a force to be reckon with in the East.
The general consensus regarding the Magic has always been that Howard is a small-market superstar lacking a standout supporting cast, but when Orlando plays like it did Monday and gets key contributions from players like Anderson, J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu, they're as good as any team in the league, and it's clear they can compete at the highest level.
"I thought the attitude on our bench today was outstanding," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said after the game. "There was no negativity at all with anybody. There was no lack of confidence. … We were just in a good frame of mind the entire day and fought it out and got what I would say is our best win of the season."
On Monday, just four days after posting a 45-point, 23-rebound game against Golden State, Howard took a backseat and gave his teammates a chance to do the heavy lifting, and his teammates did not disappoint.
In addition to Anderson's career game, Redick finished with 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting, including 3 of 6 shooting from long distance in his first start of the season in place of the injured Jason Richardson. Turkoglu continued what has been a resurgent season to date, scoring 15 points on 5 of 9 shooting.
And like Anderson and Redick, Turkoglu was also hot from distance. After missing all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half, he 12th-year veteran hit all four of his long-distance tries in the second half, including a long bank shot that put the Magic ahead for good with 5:31 left to play.
"The guys were just giving him a hard time in the locker room saying, 'Hey, if you don't want to play in the first half, just let us know,'" Van Gundy said. "He's always struggled a little bit in the early games … but down the stretch he was very, very good today, and he has been all year."
Orlando's inherent ability to shift gears on offense — featuring Howard in some games and letting others steal the spotlight in others — makes the Magic downright dangerous, and if they keep it up all season long, it may be enough to make Howard reconsider where his best shot for a championship truly lies.
The Magic have the potential to be a dark horse this season, especially given the compressed schedule and the improved play of its lesser-known assets, but still, Orlando's success all comes back to Howard.
If you want to stop Howard, you have to neglect the perimeter, and if you want to defend the three, then you're leaving some poor soul all alone in Howard's path under the rim. Neither option is a desirable one, and that's the beauty of Orlando's offense.
"It's a matter of picking your poison," Redick said.
Monday afternoon, the Knicks chose to focus on stopping Superman, and they did an admirable job, holding him to just eight points on 3 of 6 shooting in the contest. But New York's wrangling of Howard clearly came at a price.
"If they want to double team me and try to get me out of my rhythm, I'll pass the ball out and try to make great plays from the post," Howard said. "I think I've done a good job this year of not being selfish and looking for the open guy and making the right pass — not the home run pass, but the correct play."
The Magic offer a versatility that few other teams in the league can match, and when they're firing on all cylinders like they did Monday — and like they have done over the last four games — they're tough to beat.
"We're a resilient team and we can win against tough teams," Anderson said. "I think tonight was just a great show of our character and how we can just keep our composure and play well down the stretch and get good stops and play good offense. This was a big win."
But Howard and the Magic made it clear that they're not going to let one emotional win distract them.
"We've got a long season," Howard said. "We can't get satisfied with where we're at right now. We're playing good basketball, but it's early, so we've just got to stay together, stay humble, stay focused and stay healthy, and if we do those things, we'll be fine."
Orlando is a team surrounded by question marks — both regarding the present and the future — and most look at them as nothing more than an also-ran that has to prove they belong among the league's best.
But Orlando's role players are emerging as some of the best in the league, and if you ask around the Magic locker room, you won't find a soul who thinks they don't have a shot.
In fact, they're pretty confident you'll be talking about them come playoff time.
"I'm not into proving things (now)," Redick said. "We'll prove something in May. That's when it matters."
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