The Magic present more than a fair share of problems for the Clippers on both ends of the court. Offensively, the Magic spread the floor with multiple three point shooters and are anchored by the post scoring of Dwight Howard. Don’t collapse on Howard and he’ll foul out all your big men and get a handful of easy buckets at the rim. Do collapse on Howard and those shooters will light you up from outside. Even for the best defensive teams in the league, the Magic are a handful.
On the defensive end the Magic can be equally imposing. Orlando employs a ton of rangy, athletic defenders who are afforded the luxury of relentlessly chasing shooters off the three point line because Howard is backing them up.
Without Eric Gordon, the Clippers are stagnant as an offense. Orlando’s guards play smart defense on Baron Davis all night, offering him plenty of space on the perimeter by going under on every pick and roll possible. With Baron’s penetration abilities taken away and Gordon sidelined, the Clippers play absolutely no one who can penetrate and score, and more importantly, penetrate and draw the Magic perimeter defenders in a bit. Without the Magic defenders moving and having to rotate, the Clippers pass the ball along the three-point line and are forced to settle for a ton of perimeter jumpers. The Clippers shoot 14 of their 21 shots from the field beyond 15 feet in the first quarter. To give you an idea of why this is bad, the Clippers shoot right around 36% on the season from beyond 15 feet. It’s not exactly the ideal shot location.
To beat the Magic, or at least stay within shouting distance, you have to at least attempt to get Dwight Howard in foul trouble. Marcin Gortat is a capable backup, but he isn’t much of a one-on-one scorer in the post or a big shot blocking threat. Get Howard on the bench and Orlando’s perimeter defenders can’t sell out on every perimeter swing of the ball. Minus Howard you can stay at home defensively on those shooters and made Jason Williams or Jameer Nelson beat you at the rim. Unfortunately, the Clippers never even come close to getting Howard in foul trouble. Howard doesn’t collect a single foul the entire game, which is preposterous from someone of his size and strength. You’d think at some point he’d accidentally crush someone like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, but it never happens. The Clippers only shoot two free throws in the entire first half.
Essentially the Clippers got themselves in a jump shooting contest with the best jump shooting team in the league. And of course, the results were predictable. The Magic shot 52% from the field, made 7 three-pointers, and scored a whopping 67 points in the first half. Meanwhile the Clippers only shot 42% from the field and scored 41 points. You’re not making up a 26 point deficit against a team like Orlando.
Watching Dwight Howard do most of his work in the post prior to the arrival of the ball, then finishing with a pretty jump hook, is a nice reminder of how even the rawest of big men can be polished into serviceable low post scorers with time and plenty of patience. When Howard first entered the league, he was all freakish dunks, blocked shots and rebounding. DeAndre Jordan, although not on the level of Dwight Howard, obviously, is much the same way. Plenty of size and athleticism, but just a lack of general skill and footwork in the post. Watching the two go at it in their early stretch of one-on-one time against each other late in the first quarter is fascinating.
After Dwight Howard makes a pretty post move and baby hook on one end [:47, 1stQ], DeAndre Jordan goes all Howard circa 2005 by rolling clean to the hoop and skying high to throw down a Baron Davis alley-oop with one hand that was up near the top of the square [:32, 1stQ]. At [8:22, 2ndQ] Dwight Howard starts on the left block against Jordan and sweeps across the lane with a big running righty hook that falls in. It’s a skilled shot, one that Howard’s been working on for years, and it finally looks natural and unforced. To his credit, DeAndre Jordan comes right back at Howard on the other end [8:07, 2ndQ], posts up and gets great position in the middle off the key, turns, and puts in a right-handed jump hook.
At this point, wins and losses don’t mean much of anything. It’s the small moments– the tiny, barely visible victories like DeAndre Jordan holding his own against Dwight Howard for a few series that mean something. It’s the development of the players we know will be Clippers come next year. It’s finding out who can fit with Blake Griffin and who can’t. In that sense, every game serves a purpose. The end result may not matter, but the games themselves still do. Even the 26 point blowouts.