Dwight Howard won the battle. His teammates lost the war.
Five players scored in double figures for the visiting Kings, who defeated Howard’s Magic 111-105 on Wednesday night despite an efficient 31-point, 17-rebound performance from Orlando’s lone All-Star. Howard even chipped in an 11-12 effort from the foul line, and generally had his way with Sacramento’s inside players.
The Magic opened up several large leads in the game, but their supporting cast couldn’t put the game out of reach. One of the most painful sequences starred Gilbert Arenas, who almost let a 7-point fourth quarter lead evaporate by himself when he committed a turnover, touch-fouled Omri Casspi on the ensuing layup, then traveled to give the ball back and allow Beno Udrih to convert a long jump shot. When the dust had settled, Orlando’s lead had shrunk from 90-83 to 90-88, and Orlando never led by more than a basket thereafter.
The Kings finally found a way to win without Tyreke Evans, leaning on second-year guard Jermaine Taylor, who scored a career-high 21 points without dominating the ball. It took Taylor only 28 minutes and 12 shots to collect his point total, as he continually got open around the basket for easy passes from his teammates. He opened the game with a spectacular flying dunk off DeMarcus Cousins’ lob pass, then spent the rest of the game converting fast break finishes and other layups off movement without the ball.
Taylor has averaged 17 points on only 12 field goal attempts per game since stepping into the starting lineup for the injured Evans. With his low-usage approach, he can maintain his scoring clip as long as his teammates continue to find him, and presents an intriguing option to fantasy owners in deep leagues looking to add some scoring.
Sacramento’s other unsung hero was Samuel Dalembert, who came off the bench for the second straight game and had difficulty guarding Howard, but somehow came up with two of the biggest shots of the game with the outcome in doubt. He hit a spinning hook shot and then converted a layup after initially fumbling the pass from Udrih to twice give the Kings a four-point lead with less than two minutes left in the fourth. Dalembert actually made many mistakes of his own, several times drawing a disgusted look from Coach Paul Westphal, and only stayed in the game because of Cousins’ inability to maintain consistency.
No Kings write-up seems complete nowadays without an update on the enigmatic Cousins, who displayed all of his wares and warts in a perplexing, frustrating 25-minute stint. He started the game by finding Taylor for with two pinpoint passes for easy baskets, but had four turnovers and was twice tied up for jump balls. He fought hard for position against Howard, but D12 pushed him aside for uncontested rebounds and dunks at least four different times. He was the first player off the bench congratulating teammates at the end of the half and game, yet the Magic announcers spent much of the game taking shots at his body language and attitude. He did his best to rotate defensively, but lived up to his status as the league leader in fouls per game by committing five fouls, at least two of them quite foolish, which forced him to sit for the last six minutes of the game. And he carried on his maddening love affair with the long two-point jump shot, misfiring three times from 19-22 feet despite coming into the game with a 36% mark from that distance (where he hoists 3.1 attempts per game).
The Kings pulled out the win despite their front line’s marked inferiority to Howard, helped in no small part by Beno Udrih’s 18 points and 10 assists, and Luther Head’s timely shooting (including the 12-foot jumper that sealed the win with 20 seconds remaining). As a team, they hit on over 50% of their field goal attempts for only the 10th time all season. Upcoming games at Charlotte and Memphis might allow them to finish their seven-game road trip on some semblance of a good note. My prescription: more Taylor, more Udrih, fewer long 2s. And apparently, let the opposing center play as well as he can, as long as his teammates can’t provide enough help to seal the deal.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.