Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans were going to teach rookies Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson a lesson in hustle. After the loss to San Antonio, this was surely something the team addressed in its team meeting Thursday.
Glen Davis and the Magic came out with the right energy and focus and carried it throughout. That extra level of execution though was not there and grinders like Evans and Wallace took advantage to help the Nets expand a two-point lead to double digits in the third quarter and win 98-86 at Amway Center on Friday.
Wallace hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter as Brooklyn hit six of seven to take an 11-point lead heading into the final 12 minutes. Wallace had at least two of those wide open and the Magic gave up a few more open 3-pointers as their defense was sucked in by dribble penetration, double teams on Joe Johnson and offensive rebounds.
The open shots that came in the third quarter were established because Johnson was able to take advantage of whoever was defending him — whether it was J.J. Redick or Arron Afflalo — and forced Orlando to double him. Johnson scored 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting, a rare good shooting and efficient night from Johnson. Harkless was brought over to double team him and that left Wallace open. Wallace scored 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
Making matters worse was as the Nets attacked the paint with the pick and roll, it drew the post players out of position allowing Evans and Kris Humphries to get offensive rebounding position. The Magic just could not recover or rotate fast enough to stop the attack from the post or regain good rebounding position.
The Nets had 11 offensive rebounds and seemed to make every one count.
Orlando did some good things though. The offense for the most part was flowing and the Magic were attacking the basket. A rare free throw rate better than 20 percent shows that. Orlando had 19 free throw attempts, making 15. The Magic attacked the basket and got out on the break when they could.
Even without Jameer Nelson, out with tendonitis in Achilles tendon, Orlando got the ball moving and got open looks. The team had 20 assists (below average, yes) on 35 field goals. The Magic got good looks.
The difference though was the 3-point shooting. While Glen Davis was shooting well from the floor — 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, but only three rebounds — Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick struggled to get much going offensively. Orlando, as a team, hit on only one of its 11 3-point attempts. Afflalo scored just five points on 2-for-10 shooting and Redick had three points, failing to make a shot in four attempts.
That simply cannot happen on a night the Magic are without Jameer Nelson and against a team as good as the Nets. And particularly when the opponent shoots 11 for 20 from beyond the arc.
As much good as Orlando did it started to wane as the frustration of poor defense and poor shooting began to build. The Magic did not turn the ball over too much and E'Twaun Moore did a nice job with Nelson out with 13 points, four rebounds and four assists. But every time in the third quarter they scored a two, the Nets were able to answer with a three or a backbreaking offensive rebound to keep a possession alive.
Orlando could not get stops tonight and that killed any momentum the team could build. Against a team like the Nets, now second in the Eastern Conference, those kind of execution errors are something a team like the Magic cannot afford.
Orlando is not quite going back to the drawing board. If some shots fall, perhaps the Magic could have made that run to give themselves a chance. The team was much more active tonight than it was Wednesday.
With a big West Coast trip coming up though, this was not how the Magic wanted to end this homestand. They did not pick up the wins they wanted, and so the task of proving everyone wrong may have gotten a bit tougher. The journey back to the top is a long one and there is a lot of improvement left to do.