Richardson hit nine threes and got a 'poster moment' on this dunk. (Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE)

Nine In Time: Orlando Magic 99, Milwaukee Bucks 94

Drew Gooden outplayed Dwight Howard.  The Magic defeated the Bucks.

None of this nonsense makes sense, of course, until you factor in tonight’s wild card: Jason Richardson converted 9-of-11 three-point field goals.  Richardson finished with 31 points — 28 of which he netted in the second half.  With nine three-pointers, Richardson matched the NBA’s season-high mark set earlier this year by Nicolas Batum.

After coming up huge on the defensive end in in the fourth quarter against Toronto a night earlier, Gooden came home to Milwaukee to face his largest task of the year:  stopping Dwight Howard.  By most measures Gooden succeeded, limiting Howard to 5/15 shooting, holding his ground to keep Howard from getting at the rim, and boxing Dwight out while his teammates snagged rebounds.

But the increased Buck attention inside opened up space outside, and Richardson thrived on the open shots.  His hot shooting triggered a pair of second-half outbursts.  One came early in the third quarter to erase an eight-point Milwaukee lead, and the other dried up a 10-point Bucks lead late in the fourth.

MVP: Ersan Ilyasova

His jump shots were smooth and floaty.  While moving on offense, he made himself an available target.  And when missed shots bounced skyward, he busted his buttocks to go get them.

It was a near-perfect game for Ersan: 17 points, 7-10 FG, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and 1 downright grimy steal.

After a Gooden drive and miss, Ersan tipped the ball away from Howard, but in doing so, redirected it a hand he held directly over Glen Davis’ head.  As a result, Davis took advantage of an easy chance to reach up and pry it away.

But Ilyasova was relentless.  Unhappy about missing the rebound, he kept after the ball — poking and jostling until he drew it loose.

He passed it to Jennings, who missed an open three-pointer. Speaking of which…

LVP: Brandon Jennings

Jennings wasn’t awful per se, but there were a lot of factors contributing to his taking this spot.

1) He tied with Carlos Delfino for a team-worst -9 in the +/- department. Some nights that stat can be deceiving; trust me that Jennings’ -9 was spot-on honest.

2) Jennings shot 0/5 on 3-pt. field goals.  The rest of the team was 9/17.  Here’s a good rule of thumb for point guards:  When your teammates shoot better than 50% from three, you had better be dangety sure that you have a good shot before you chuck up your own three.

3)  He was 3/14 overall and chose to go with a few too many leaners.  He is so much more dangerous as a catch-and-shoot player.  The improved shot selection that he demonstrated in December and January has degenerated in February.  He is shooting 32.7% from the field this month.

This should please you: Energetic Second Game

Playing in the second game of a back-to-back, the Bucks came out with solid energy in the first half.  Well, sort of.

After falling behind 7-0 to start the game and firing up more shots that missed the rim than didn’t, the Bucks turned things around and played with more energy than the Magic, who were also playing their second game in two nights.

The Bucks outrebounded Orlando 28-17 in the first half, and they held Dwight Howard scoreless until the 4:43 mark of the second quarter.  Ersan Ilyasova looked particularly spry in just his second game after missing a game due to back spasms.  He grabbed, tipped, and hustled his way to eight first-half rebounds.

This should concern you: The Collapse

The Bucks used a 13-0 run to take a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead on Orlando.  Beno Udrih, playing primarily with Gooden, Ersan, Dunleavy, and Delfino, got into a good groove both shooting and finding his shooters.  Ilyasova had four rebounds during the run, too.

But then Stan Van Gundy inserted Jameer Nelson back into the game.  The Magic used the pick-and-roll to initiate the offense, and as the Bucks shifted to defend it, Jason Richardson got to his spots for open looks at three-pointers.  He hit three in a span of a minute and a half, and the Milwaukee lead was gone for good.  Orlando ran off 16 straight points and finished the game on a 21-6 scoring outburst.

Final verdict: Slipping to Irrelevancy 

The Bucks now sit a half-game behind the Knicks in the chase for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.  If the Knicks keep winning behind Jeremy Lin, then the Bucks can ill afford to blow double-digit fourth-quarter leads.

On the other hand, it is a sure bet that the NBA would love to promote a Derrick Rose/Jeremy Lin first-round duel of point guards.  If Brandon Jennings is truly interested the type of mass media exposure that exists in big markets, then he had quickly turn his season and lead the Bucks back into the playoff hunt.

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Tags: Drew Gooden Dwight Howard Ersan Ilyasova Milwaukee Bucks Orlando Magic

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