Putty in their hands: Howard takes control inside; his teammates manage the rest
The Milwaukee Bucks, coming off an impressive victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday, had an opportunity to put some frosting on the cake when Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic came to town.
Like Boston and Cleveland, the Magic is one of top the three teams in the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference, and the game Wednesday was another stout challenge for the Bucks. But instead of rising to the occasion as they did so well against the Celtics, the Bucks had nothing going for them from beginning to end and were crushed by the Magic, 106-80.
With Howard dominating inside and his teammates blistering the nets from three-point range, the Magic built a 65-35 halftime lead which easily held up in the second half. The Magic shot 56.4 percent in the first half and 48 percent for the game.
“The defensive effort wasn’t there,” said Bucks guard Charlie Bell. “The first half they came out and got whatever they wanted. It was like no resistance and I don’t even know if they were playing hard.
“It was like they were just going through the motions—throw it in, if we double, kick it out and hit a three. If not, they’d go and dunk the ball. We made them look like they were the best team in the world tonight.”
Said Bucks coach Scott Skiles, “We really didn’t compete at all.”
The Magic’s imposing inside-out game came as advertised as Howard was a beast inside and finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Howard, who scored 18 points in the first quarter, made eight of 13 shots and 12 of 21 free throws.
When Howard wasn’t punishing the Bucks inside, his teammates were picking apart the Bucks from the three-point line, where they sank 11 of 29 shots.
Bucks guard Keith Bogans had seen it all before when he played the last two seasons in Orlando before being obtained in trade by the Bucks this season.
“They had both things going,” said Bogans. “(Howard) got it going early on the inside and we had to help and that opened them up on the outside, That’s their game. It’s always been their game. We didn’t give nowhere near the effort tonight that we gave on Sunday. Those guys jumped on us from the start and didn’t let us get back in the game.”
Orlando hurt the Bucks from the three-point line early as they got three-point baskets from four players in jumping out to a 20-13 lead.
But then Howard went to work, making two free throws and a short hook to extend Orlando’s lead to 10. Later in the quarter, Howard scored eight straight points—a pair of three-point plays and a thunderous dunk—to give the Magic a 34-18 lead.
After two free throws by Milwaukee’s Richard Jefferson, Howard scored from the paint, giving him the final 10 Orlando points and putting the Magic ahead, 36-20, after one quarter.
Howard was on the bench to start the second quarter, but Orlando extended its lead to 41-22. The Bucks scored the next six points, but a three-pointer by Rashard Lewis helped the Magic push its lead to 48-30 with 5:34 left and Howard returned.
Orlando then ran off eight straight to take a 56-31 lead. Howard sank two free throws in the final minute for his only points of the second quarter. The Magic scored the final nine points of the half. Howard had 20 points and 10 rebounds at halftime.
The Bucks will close their string of six straight home games Saturday night against Portland and will need a victory to break even on the home stand.
“We weren’t overly high after the Boston win, which was a good win,” said Jefferson. “And we’re not overly low here. You have to try and stay even keel. We played well against Boston. We didn’t play well against Orlando, which is not exactly a bum team. But you have to keep pressing along and staying confident.”