The Sun Sports cameras followed Dwight Howard to the Magic’s locker room in the tunnels of AT&T Center. His back was turned to the camera after the Magic’s disappointing loss and he turned back to give a smile. Maybe one final smile wearing the familiar Magic uniform.
The trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. After the wild and wacky event that transpired Wednesday, it is feeling a whole lot like the Magic will not get the commitment beyond this year fromm their star player and they will do what they have to get value.
David Steele on the Magic’s Sun Sports broadcast put it succinctly in his words as the clock wound down to zero in San Antonio:
I shaved two points off the Spurs final there. That was about the best defense the Magic played all night.
It was a close game the whole way through until San Antonio managed to pull away late. Orlando’s poor defense finally caught up to it and a wild day of emotion and speculation and reports ended with an unceremonious thud. The Magic needed stops and hands were down, teammates could not get out of the paint to contest 3-point shooters and, eventually the defense completely broke down.
Orlando was scoring at will much like San Antonio all game. Until it wasn’t. The shots stopped falling and nobody outside of Jameer Nelson could get anything going late.
And so a 111-point, 52.3 percent shooting night where the team had only six turnovers was simply not enough. The Spurs made the plays necessary to get the 122-111 win and send Orlando into a day off and into the trade deadline where uncertainty awaits.
Two defensive plays really showed Orlando’s break downs — aside from the numerous Tony Parker pick and rolls that broke him to the rim free where no one could meet him or Dwight Howard was too slow to challenge.
The first play occurred with 4:15 left and the Magic trailing 105-100. San Antonio drove into the paint and drew all five Magic players into the paint. Howard came to challenge and other players surrounded. The player swung the ball out to Kawhi Leonard at the top of the keey. Another player stood on the wing opposite the pass and Tony Parker was sneaking to the corner. Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson were standing in the paint needing to react.
Nelson did, he ran out to the 3-point line to chase Leonard off the line. The defense still had not reset. Turkoglu did the worse thing you could do on defense: be indecisive. Turkoglu did not quite step up to Leonard and did not quite rotate out to the other perimeter players. The slow rotation from Turkoglu and the Magic teammates freed up Parker in the corner. He drained the 3-pointer with Nelson running hard to try and close out and be some type of impediment to the shot. It put the Magic into desperation mode.
The final defensive breakdown came in a little-used zone press that saw Howard miss Leonard on the backside as he watched the ball. As the safety in that zone, his one responsibility is to keep everything in front of him. Leonard’s easy dunk with 1:20 left made it a 118-109 lead for the Spurs. That was certainly the game.
San Antonio shot 51.8 percent from the floor and 13 for 26 from beyond the arc. While the Magic shot at a slightly higher percentage, they did not get to the line nearly as much. The Spurs took advantage of the lax defense. Making 23 of 27 free throws certainly helps in a winning effort. Tony Parker led the way with 31 points and Tim Duncan had 21 points on 12 shots.
Orlando kept pace most of the night but did not have that final kick.
Kudos to Jameer Nelson for putting in a strong offensive game for the second night in a row. Nelson was aggressive again, hitting three 3-pointers in the first quarter and setting the tone all game. He scored 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting and added seven assists and five rebounds. Finally Nelson is stringing together some great games and becoming the player he was in 2009, or at least more of that player.
He was not much defensively with Parker scoring 31 points. But neither was anyone else.
It was really a wonder the Magic could stay focused in this game with all the zaniness going on around it — the opt-in crisis, the team meeting, Dwight Howard’s new stance that he wants to stay on the team for the remainder of the year. Stan Van Gundy might treat tomorrow like a normal Thursday, but it will not be for sure. An offensive effort like this should net you a win.
If this was Howard’s last game in a Magic uniform (looking more likely), he put in a relatively quiet 22 points and 12 rebounds. He made just 4 of 12 free throws and 9 of 16 shots.
Those numbers have become unremarkable in his amazing eight-year career. We are going to miss that gap in the middle. But it is also clear that the Howard story has drained the franchise of all energy. Everyone needs this to end one way or another.
Tomorrow it might happen. This 11-point loss for the Magic might have finally been the end.