It didn’t matter. The game, itself, was a nightmare.
Dwight Howard won the matchup of the centers, and Ryan Anderson swished one long-range shot after another as the Magic throttled the Suns 103-93.
“I probably gave him too much respect again,” Gortat said of Howard. “I should have attacked him a little bit stronger. Now it is over, and the game is over. He basically destroyed me and the whole team.”
Howard scored 28 points, collected 16 rebounds and blocked three shots to produce the kind of dominant performance Gortat had seen so often as Howard’s backup.
This time, all of those dunks, running hooks and athletic rebounds came at Gortat’s expense. Gortat finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting, nine boards and three blocks.
“It wasn’t a one-on-one game,” Howard said. “I wasn’t preparing to play Marcin. I was preparing for what’s ahead.”
By “what’s ahead,” Howard meant the playoffs.
With 18 more regular-season games to go, the Magic still need to make plenty of improvements. Coach Stan Van Gundy wants his players to play with more urgency from start to finish. And he wants them to realize that some of the bad habits they have formed — occasional lackadaisical defense, periods of low energy on offense and continuous carelessness with the basketball — simply cannot be erased when the playoffs begin.
The Magic displayed those bad habits Wednesday, despite the easy victory. They allowed the Suns to shoot 48.1 percent from the field. The Magic committed 17 turnovers. And the Magic were outscored 31-22 in the final quarter.
Still, the Magic received a game-high 29 points from Anderson, who hit seven of the 12 shots he tried from beyond the arc. Backup big man Glen Davis added 16 points and seven rebounds.
And, of course, there was Howard’s big contribution.
“Dwight played extremely well, and I thought we defended Marcin’s offense very, very well,” Van Gundy said.
“That was more of a team thing, because Marsh’s game is pick-and-rolls with [Steve] Nash, and we made a real concerted effort to take that roll to the rim away. I thought we did that as well as it can possibly be done.”
Nash finished with 12 points, just two assists and five turnovers as the Suns completed a back-to-back.
The Magic (30-18) needed a victory after they lost Sunday to the Miami Heat and were demolished Monday night by the Chicago Bulls.
The Suns (23-24) were playing on the second leg of a back-to-back. Including their loss Tuesday to the Heat, the Suns dropped to 9-4 since the All-Star break.
The Magic took control early in the second quarter.
Ahead 33-28, Anderson sank a 3-pointer, J.J. Redickhit a running jumper off the glass, Anderson made two of three free throws and Davis swished a fadeaway jumper.
That upped the Magic’s lead to 42-28.
Although the Suns cut the score to 49-40 on a runner by Nash with 2:53 left before halftime, Howard responded on Orlando’s ensuing possession. Howard sped past Gortat, cut across the lane and went up for a dunk.
The Magic led by double digits from that point on.
Gortat has been a big reason for Phoenix’s recent success.
Benefitting from his partnership with Nash and increased playing time, Gortat began Wednesday with Howard and Andrew Bynum as the NBA’s only players who are averaging 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
Gortat felt excited before Wednesday’s tipoff. In fact, he felt so amped up that he worried that his excess energy would spur him into silly personal fouls early on.
Nicknamed the “Polish Hammer,” Gortat was a fan favorite in Orlando for his hustle, his awkward style and because he was a good backup to Howard. Gortat often wanted more playing time, but Van Gundy found it difficult because Gortat was playing behind Howard, a perennial All-Star.
Gortat had looked forward to this matchup ever since Dec. 18, 2010, the day of the blockbuster trade that sent him, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, a first-round pick and cash to the Suns for Earl Clark, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu.
The Suns had not played the Magic in Orlando since then.
Before tipoff, Gortat credited Van Gundy and assistant coach Brendan Malone for helping him become a better pro.
He also is friendly with Howard. The two spent some time together during the offseason, talking once face-to-face for 90 minutes.
“After Coach Malone, after Stan, Dwight is probably the third person who really improved my game, who made me a tougher guy,” Gortat said. “Now I know how it is to go against the best guys in the league. Many times, there’s nothing worse than Dwight. If you can survive Dwight, then there’s nothing worse than Dwight.”
Perhaps Gortat’s adrenaline messed with his shooting on Wednesday. He didn’t score until he was fouled by Jameer Nelson and hit a pair of free throws with 8 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Gortat missed his first six shot attempts from the field, but he collected an offensive rebound off a missed 3 by teammate Markieff Morris and scored on a layup with 4:14 left in the third. His bucket cut Orlando’s lead to 71-58.
Gortat and Nash watched the fourth quarter from the Phoenix bench.
By that point, there was no need for them to go back into the game.
The nightmare was about to run its course with or without them.
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