It figures on a night where the Magic struggled to get stops and struggled to put together good enough defense to control the game, that a defensive play — a good one at that — might have ultimately sealed their fate.
E'Twaun Moore blocked Grivis Vasquez's runner with 25.1 seconds left and recovered the ball. The only problem was he was on the line and out of bounds beneath the basket. It would be Hornets ball… with a new shot clock. Down by one point, that turned out to be a critical play as Vasquez received the inbounds and gave the Hornets a three-point lead.
The Magic tried to free up J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson on several occassions, seeking the team's season-high 12th 3-point make of the season. Neither could get open and the ball fell to a wide-open Nikola Vucevic in the corner for a chance to tie the game.
His open 3-pointer was no good and the Hornets snapped their 11-game losing streak with a 97-94 win in front of a sellout crowd at the Amway Center on Wednesday.
"We just couldn’t get stops," Vucevic said. "They shot 50 percent or something like that. We can’t have that. We’re not a team that is going to outscore you. We have to get stops. That’s what we’ve been doing when we played well lately. Now we didn’t do that and they beat us."
The Hornets shot exactly 50.0 percent for the game, making points at a pretty consistent clip throughout. They scored 26 points in the first quarter and 29 in the third quarter to overcome the Magic and take the lead.
New Orleans went to Robin Lopez early and often as he scored a season-high 29 points, making his first eight shots and 9 of 10 for the game. Vucevic struggled to defend him and keep him from getting deep post position for easy shots. And, yes, some shots he may not normally make simply went in for the big man.
With Lopez setting a solid pace in the post it opened things up for point guard Greivis Vasquez who scored 27 points and had eight assists, taking over late too. Anthony Davis' ability to run to the rim on pick and rolls also had the Magic turning their heads and hoping to stay out of the poster on several occasions.
The Magic did not lack for points or offense for most of this game though.
Orlando shot 45.6 percent from the floor and hit 11 of 30 3-point attempts, a season high for 3-point attempts. J.J. Redick said the Hornets sucked in a lot on pick and rolls and that enabled the Magic to step up from beyond the arc and take and make 3-pointers.
Of course, the 3-pointers soon dried up.
"We’ve just got to play better in the fourth," Arron Afflalo said after the Magic 5 for 24 in the fourth quarter and missed all nine of their 3-point attempts in the period. "Be more aggressive, be more confident and make plays down the stretch. That’s generally when good players and great players step up and make plays. I thought Jameer played well as a whole tonight, but I probably have to take some of that onus on myself. Come winning time, I have to be better, I have to make plays, make shots and do what it takes to win."
After hitting 7 of 15 in the first half, Orlando was only 4 of 15 in the second half. Considering the Magic shot 62.2 percent from the floor in the first two quarters, it took a pretty difficult offensive effort to fall below the 50 percent mark. And the fourth quarter, as noted, was not an offensive masterpiece in comparison to the rest of the game. It put Orlando further behind the 8-ball.
The Magic, who had 17 assists in the first half including eight from Jameer Nelson, hit on only 31 percent of their shots in the second half and recorded only eight assists. Jameer Nelson was the only player to shoot better than 50 percent in the second half, scoring 15 of his 28 points in the second half on 6-for-10 shooting.
It was Jameer Nelson's highest scoring regular season game since he scored 30 against Toronto on Nov. 1, 2009 and the most points he has scored in any game since Game Three of the 2010 Playoff series against Charlotte.
"I take what the defense gives me," Jameer Nelson said. "It doesn't matter how many points I score, I'm trying to win."
Nelson carried the load, but the Hornets defense did a good job closing out on him and closing out on shooters as the game wore on. Lopez and Davis wore down the Magic's interior, blocking five shots and challenging many more. The Magic found it tough going in the paint with only 14 points in the paint in the second half on 7-for-24 shooting.
There was one sequence where Orlando missed four layups right at the rim with a chance to cut into the lead and build some confidence. With the Magic no longer moving the ball and settling for 3-pointers, the Hornets were the ones dictating the tempo and deciding when to push the pace and when to run offense.
Seeing as Orlando could not stop them very often, the transition and secondary break opportunities that led to many of those 3-point makes ended and the Magic no longer could ge tthe matchups they wanted. The offense, obviously suffered for it.
The Hornets pounced on the mistakes and ended their losing streak while sending the Magic to their third consecutive loss.
"They’ve always been a scrappy team no matter who they have on their team," Nelson said. "They came in and basically handed it to us a little bit."
That seemed to be a common refrain. New Orleans outworked Orlando on the defensive end and Orlando could not dig down and get the stop it needed to win the game.