Wed. Final: Magic 106, Bucks 80
By Todd Welter
Next game: Saturday vs. Portland
Bucks Shots at 7:10 p.m. on 620WTMJ
Dwight Howard likens himself to Superman and he certainly proved that he was more powerful than a locomotive as he dominated the Milwaukee Bucks. Howard led the Orlando Magic to a 106-80 rout over the Bucks with a game-high 28 points at the Bradley Center.
Howard --who has competed in previous NBA Slam Dunk Contests in a Superman shirt and red cape-- dominated this game faster than a speeding bullet as he did most of his damage in the first quarter. He scored 18 points which helped the Magic (50-18) build up a 36-20 lead at the end of the quarter and the rout was on from there.
The Bucks (31-39) just never seemed to have an answer for Howard. Double-teams did not work as he simply passed out to the open shooter. Howard finished with seven assists and the Magic went 11-of-29 from three-point range. When the Bucks guarded him one-on-one, he scored or got to the free throw line.
"I don't know if he's the top center in the league, but he's right there," Bucks head coach Scott Skiles believed. "You can compete against him and he can still get 15 points in a quarter. It's more of what were supposed to be doing. We just didn't get it accomplished."
Although, Howard's free-throw shooting was his kryptonite as he went 12-21 from the line.
"My teammates are trying to beat me down the stretch to make free throws --hopefully they'll start falling," Howard said.
Howard rounded out his man-of-steel like night with 12 rebounds and a couple blocks. He paid his best homage to his comic book hero towards the end of third quarter when he swatted away Charlie Bell's layup attempt into the fifth row. He did everything except sell hot dogs --although he did take time during a timeout to throw a couple free t-shirts into the crowd.
"Dwight was tremendous," Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy commented. "Six assists at halftime on top of the twenty points --it's easy to play through him when he's playing with that type of patience."
The Bucks definitely played their part towards a doomed fate. Milwaukee shot under 40% from the field for the second game in a row. Unlike Milwaukee's win over Boston last Sunday, the Bucks' defense could not contain a major star just enough to pull off the win. The Bucks missed enough shots early to take them out of the contest by the first half with a 33.3-percent first half shooting percentage. That eyesore first half shooting left Milwaukee down by 30 at the break and the shooting did not get any better in the second half which killed any hope of an improbable comeback.
"There is a lesson to be learned here for us," Skiles said. "Most sporting events are actually over before they even start based on the mindset of the teams and the players that are playing in it. We had tremendous difficulty yesterday in practice getting any focus --it carried over into tonight. That's a good team. We could possibly play very well and still get beat. We really didn't compete at all."
The Bucks have kept pace in the playoff race but nights like this game still show that this is a young team playing without its two top players in Michael Redd (knee) and Andrew Bogut (back).
"We've followed up a big win with a little bit of a celebratory attitude and sometimes it has spilled over into the next game," Skiles explained. "It is something to learn from. We still have a lot of young guys that are learning how to be pros. We need leadership sorely right now."
Charlie Villanueva scored a team-high 17 points for Milwaukee. The Bucks are now a game and a half back of the Chicago Bulls for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee finishes its six-game homestand on Saturday night when the Portland Trail Blazers come to town.