Orlando seeks redemption in rematch with Mavs
Jan. 7, 2011
It sure seems like it's been a long time since the Orlando Magic lost a basketball game.
Friday's 110-95 win over the Houston Rockets was the eighth straight for the Magic, and with the victory, Orlando moved to 24-12 on the season and into sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
But if you think back -- way back -- you'll remember that the last time the Magic lost a game was Dec. 21 at the Amway Center. That distant memory of a defeat came at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, and on Saturday, Orlando heads to the Lone Star State for a shot at redemption.
This time around, the playing field should be a little more level.
When the two teams met before Christmas, Orlando was three days removed from two blockbuster trades that reshaped the entire Magic rotation. They were playing on the second night of a back-to-back (they had lost in Atlanta the night before), and the new players hadn't yet had a practice together.
Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas, still struggling to understand their roles on the team, combined to shot 7-of-30 from the field in that game. Add to that the fact that Dallas had won 15 of 16 coming in (including a season sweep of the Miami -- the Heat's only two losses since Thanksgiving), and the result was a recipe for disaster.
But even with all that working against them, the Magic hung tough and trailed by just two points with 24 seconds left in the game before they eventually lost 105-99. Heck, the Magic played so well given the circumstances that their own coach praised the loss.
"We've got to continue to play with as much energy as we did tonight, play as hard as we did tonight and try to get better every day," Van Gundy said at the time. "That's really my only goal right now."
It's safe to say Van Gundy's Magic are meeting that goal, and since the first meeting with Dallas, both teams have been moving in the opposite direction.
Orlando, as I mentioned, has won eight straight since Dec. 21, including strong victories over San Antonio, Boston and New York. The Magic have also scored more than 110 points five times during the streak after reaching that total just three times in the season's first 28 games.
The defense has been just as solid, holding opponents to an average of 92.1 points per game since the loss and boasting an average margin of victory of 14.4 points a night.
Dallas, on the other hand, has gone just 3-4 since the win over Orlando, and has dropped three of its last four games at home.
Part of the reason for the skid is a serious injury bug that has derailed the Mavs' season. Dallas has been playing without leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki, who will sit out his seventh straight game Saturday with a knee injury, and two-time All-Star Caron Butler, who will miss the rest of the season after tearing a tendon in his right knee last Saturday against the Bucks.
On paper, it looks like the Magic hold the advantage on Saturday night at American Airlines Center, where Dallas is just 14-7 on the season.
Orlando will enter the game with a full head of steam against a reeling Mavericks team without its two best players, but Dallas isn't 26-9 on accident, so the Magic need to make sure they're on their toes if they don't want to get knocked flat on their back instead.
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