After a slow start, Lewis finished with 10 points in his first game back from a suspension, helping Orlando beat the Charlotte Bobcats 97-91 on Monday night.
Lewis looked rusty after serving a 10-game ban handed out by the NBA for testing positive for an elevated testosterone level. The All-Star forward finally found his footing late, sparking a rally that moved the Magic in front for good.
“I think it was just about catching up to the rhythm of the game,” Lewis said. “Just taking my time and not rushing shots. Early in the game I feel like I was kind of rushing the 3-point ball, so I was shooting it flat.”
Flip Murray(notes) tied a career high with 31 points, and Stephen Jackson(notes) had 13 points and nine rebounds for Charlotte hours after the disgruntled swingman was acquired from Golden State. Even with the new addition, the Bobcats couldn’t avoid their fifth straight loss.
“We just have to play together a little bit more and figure out how we all play and where we want the ball,” Jackson said. “We have a good chance of getting into that playoff run. We just can’t dig ourselves too big of a hole right now.”
Charlotte never could capitalize on its chances.
Even after shooting nearly 60 percent in the first half, the Bobcats were only ahead 52-50. And things could have been worse.
Mickael Pietrus(notes) missed an alley-oop dunk off an inbounds pass with 0.2 seconds remaining in the half that would have tied it. He skied high but slammed it down too hard, causing the ball to bounce off. Officials called a foul but reviewed the play and decided the contact came after the buzzer.
Hampered by injuries, suspensions and illnesses, the Magic have flip-flopped lineups so many times this season that their power forwards—Lewis, Ryan Anderson(notes) and Brandon Bass(notes)—didn’t even play in the previous game. With backup center Marcin Gortat(notes) out with the flu, those three were on the floor when Orlando pulled away.
“That’s sort of how crazy it has been,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We made our run with three guys who weren’t even in uniform the other night.
“What I think we’ll do now is just highlight different positions every night,” he joked. “So tonight it was our power forwards. And then maybe we’ll like play three of our point guards together. We’ve already done the thing the other night where we played all of our wing guys together. And then one night we’ll feature our centers.
“Rather than balancing your team, we like to play them in groups.”
It took Orlando’s missing All-Star some time to regain his form.
Lewis picked up his first basket of the game with 2:25 remaining in the third quarter, a short jumper that started a big Magic push. He added a pair of layups that helped Orlando build a 76-68 lead.
But he wasn’t done yet.
After a dunk by Anderson to start the fourth, Lewis hit a 14-foot jumper to give the Magic a 12-point cushion. Charlotte rallied but Vince Carter(notes) hit a 3-pointer with 53.1 seconds left to give Orlando a 93-87 lead.
“It was just exciting to get this first game under my belt,” Lewis said. “I knew I would be rusty. It’s just about going out there and getting through my mistakes.”
The Bobcats might need more than Jackson to get out of the Southeast Division cellar.
Charlotte began Monday as the league’s lowest-scoring team at 82.4 points per game and is hoping Jackson can spark its slumping offense.
The Bobcats traded shooting guard Raja Bell(notes) and forward Vladimir Radmanovic(notes) to the Warriors for Jackson and guard Acie Law(notes). Jackson hopped a plane from Milwaukee and arrived in Orlando about two hours before tipoff.
“I love him and he gives us flexibility,” coach Larry Brown said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win without really having much organization. Now we just need to keep playing hard and together.”
NOTES: Carter and Brown, both North Carolina alumni, enjoyed a long hug before tipoff. Carter pointed out his family sitting in the stands to Brown, who waived and smiled back … The Magic teamed up with the Harris Corp. to donate tickets to military members and their families. It was the fourth year the Magic have held “Seats For Soldiers Night.” They even surprised a few family members in the stands by broadcasting telephone calls from loved ones overseas live in the arena, leading to a few tearful conversations.