Monday , Nov , 29 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Points in the Paint

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – If forward Grant Hill stays healthy, the
Orlando Magic look like they could be a serious threat in the Eastern
Conference.

Orlando improved to 8-4 on the 2004-05 season, as it defeated the Philadelphia
76ers, 105-99, on Saturday at TD Waterhouse Centre. Hill played 40 minutes and
finished with a game-high 29 points, while three-time All-Star Steve Francis
contributed 26 points, five assists and five rebounds in the victory.

“That was a good team win for us,” said Orlando head coach Johnny Davis after
the win over Philadelphia. “We were struggling a little bit in the first half
to get something going and then we go down 10 in the third quarter and they
just responded to the challenge.

“We picked up our defense, our rebounding, our interior defense particularly.
We started to not allow them second shots which ignited us in transition and
then we started making plays in the half court set, started setting good
screens and finding the shooters and they were knocking down shots for us. So
it was a good team win. Philadelphia’s a tough club and they keep coming at
you. They don’t ever stop, they’re relentless and I thought we met that
tonight.”

Rookies Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson played well in the win over
Philadelphia. Howard, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, had 12
points and 10 rebounds, while Nelson, who was acquired from Denver after the
Nuggets selected him with the 20th overall pick, finished with eight points
and six assists while playing a career-high 27 minutes.

Davis was happy with the play of his rookies in the win over Philadelphia.

“I thought they (Howard and Nelson) played well,” said Davis. “When Steve
(Francis) got in foul trouble, Jameer Nelson came in and he was very steady
for us in that situation, played with a lot of poise, a lot of patience. He
kept us moving. I thought Dwight (Howard) was terrific all night. He did a
great job on Corliss Williamson inside who had been a bit of a problem for us
previously. But I thought Dwight did well against him defensively. He also
rebounded the ball for us.”

Howard and Nelson are only going to get better. After 12 contests, the 18-
year-old Howard, who turns 19 on December 8, is averaging 9.3 points and a
team-high 10.7 rebounds in almost 31 minutes per night, while Nelson has
registered 4.5 points and 2.2 assists in just over 12 minutes of action per
game.

The Magic are off to their best start since 1998-99, when they were 9-3 at the
same point of the season. Orlando was a bit of a mystery coming into the new
campaign, as it made a bold move in the offseason when it traded All-Star
Tracy McGrady, forward Juwan Howard and guards Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to
the Houston Rockets for Francis, Cuttino Mobley, who has been hampered with a
groin injury, and forward/center Kelvin Cato.

Francis has led the Magic in scoring (20.9 ppg) and assists (6.3 apg). He is
also second on the team in rebounding (7.4 rpg). Mobley has contributed 13.8
points per game in the four games that he has played in, while Cato has
grabbed seven boards and has registered 2.8 blocks in the nine games that he
has appeared in.

The 32-year-old Hill, who missed all of the 2003-04 season and played just 47
games in the previous three seasons, has scored in double-digits in all 12 of
Orlando’s games. He is averaging 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists
for the Magic. Hill, who was traded by the Detroit Pistons to Orlando in
exchange for Chucky Atkins and All-Star Ben Wallace in a sign-and-trade deal
in August 2000, has been a huge bonus for the Magic, who were not sure if they
would ever be able count on the five-time All-Star.

Swingman Hedo Turkoglu, who left the San Antonio Spurs and signed with the
Magic as a free agent in July, has also been a big contributor for Orlando
early on. Turkoglu, who spent the first three years of his career with the
Sacramento Kings before he was traded to the Spurs in July 2003 as part of a
three-team trade, is third on the team in scoring (15.6 ppg). He has given the
Magic some much needed scoring off the bench.

A healthy Hill makes all the difference in the world for the Magic. He not
only gives them positive leadership, but he is a team player who can is
effective at both ends of the court.

Hill and Francis give Orlando a potent one-two scoring punch, while the
rookies (Howard and Nelson) and Cato, Mobley and Turkoglu are all big factors
for Orlando.

If Hill can stay in the lineup and the Magic continue to jell as a team,
Orlando could creep up on some clubs and do some serious damage in the Eastern
Conference. The Magic could be this season’s darkhorse.