Game No. 38: Magic 92, Raptors 88

For whatever reason, the Raptors have consistently put up a good fight against the Magic over the past couple of seasons. Tonight was no exception as they lost by just four points even though they went into battle without Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson. When you consider that Bargnani is this team’s MVP and Amir is probably among its top four players, it’s not a stretch to suggest the Raptors might have pulled this one out with a fully-stocked roster.

Since ifs and buts are not, in fact, candied nuts, here are my random observations about this contest.

1. Dwight Howard made 16 of his 20 field goal attempts. The last player to take at least 20 field goal attempts and make at least 80 percent of them was Dwight, just over a year ago.

2. Say what you will about Jerryd Bayless, but he’s crazy fun to watch when he’s in the zone. He had 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting, 4-for-4 from the line, and six rebounds just in the fourth quarter. I’m not convinced he’ll ever get it together consistently enough to land a starting job, but his sixth man potential remains intriguing.

3. Ryan Anderson doesn’t get his numbers just because he plays next to Dwight Howard. He’s a legitimately good player. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not convinced that Andrea Bargnani is significantly better than him. Andrea’s more of an “alpha scorer”, but Anderson is a much better rebounder and they’re probably a wash defensively. It will be very interesting to see if he gets close to “Bargnani money” (around $10 million per season) with his next contract. Under the new CBA, probably not.

4. Another impressive performance from James Johnson, who is looking more and more like a legitimate NBA starter as a sort of poor man’s Shawn Marion. You might not need me to point this out to you, but he’s a more valuable player than DeMar DeRozan right now.

5. Listening to Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong discuss the limitations of advanced stats at the end of the first quarter was amusing to me. Let me reassure Matt, Jack and anyone who doubts the value of analytics that even a stats nerd like me ignores anyone who only judges players based on numbers. This isn’t an either/or situation.

6. This makes it 15 games in a row that the Raptors have either won the game or lost by seven points or fewer. While I recognize that this isn’t a particularly meaningful stat, it means we’re watching consistently competitive basketball. Did you expect anything more this season?

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson — 13 Pts, 5-13 FG, 1-4 3Pt, 2-2 FT, 7 Reb, 7 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

Magic Player of the Game: Dwight Howard — 36 Pts, 16-20 FG, 4-14 FT, 13 Reb, 1 Stl, 2 Blk