It was less than 10 minutes before tip off when Jacque Vaughn informed Nikola Vucevic he would not play with a sore Achilles. That decision and injury may have changed the game as the Magic were severely lacking on the interior. Not with paint bucket himself, Al Jefferson going to work.
Jefferson scored 29 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, working the interior and abusing whoever was guarding him as Charlotte defeated Orlando 91-80 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday. The Magic lacked Vucevic’s presence inside, despite Vucevic’s own struggles against Jefferson in the past. Orlando could not get anything on the interior offensively either with Andrew Nicholson going scoreless in the starting lineup and Kyle O’Quinn missing 12 of his 20 field goal attempts.
Charlotte held a 40-36 advantage in the paint and 14-4 on fastbreak points. The Bobcats used a 33-point second quarter and Kemba Walker’s second career triple double to take as much as a 21-point lead and hold on as the Magic rallied in the second half.
If you are looking for more reasons why Nikola Vucevic might be the MVP of the team this year, this game might be the one to prove it.
Sure Jefferson has had his way with Vucevic in the past, but Vucevic is jsut smart with his defense in the post and a versatile weapon on offense. His averages are pretty modest in the big picture, but he is just capable of doing so much. He has great sense around the basket going for rebounds on both ends and is a calming force, particularly early in games when the Magic tend to go to him more.
In all, Orlando managed 14 offensive rebounds with five of them coming from Dewayne Dedmon. Dedmon and Tobias Harris each had eight rebounds in the game. The two starters in the post though — Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson — had nine rebounds between them. That feels like there was a big hole in the lineup.
Nicholson failed to score in 13 minutes of play starting. O’Quinn scored 10 points on 8-for-20 shooting. Taking a look at O’Quinn’s shot chart, it shows that O’Quinn was 3 for 8 at the rim and 0 for 6 from the top of the key.
Those are the kind of shots Vucevic usually gets and usually makes at a pretty solid rate. O’Quinn was seemingly taking the shots he normally gets and all of Vucevic’s shots. It did not work out so well.
Continuing to fight
The Magic have made it a cliche when they fall behind, but they rarely get blown out and they always seem capable of making it a game. The Magic are very capable of playing well for 36 minutes. Getting them to 48 minutes is the issue.
Charlotte scored 33 points in the second quarter, making 50.0 percent of their shots and four of six 3-pointers. This is when they really took control of the game and pulled away. The Bobcats led by as much as 21 points in the second quarter and outscored the Magic by 16 points.
The second half was a completely different story. Charlotte had only 38 total points in the final 24 minutes, shooting 38.2 percent and making two of their six 3-pointers. Even Al Jefferson got bottled up with eight points on 3-for-11 shooting in the second half. Gary Neal was the lone player to score in double figures with 10 points off the bench.
Again the fight was there as the Magic brought deficit under 10 points and gave themselves a chance to win the game. Charlotte would not give Orlando the opportunity to make a second-straight major comeback and steal a win. The Magic shot just 37.2 percent in the second half. Victor Oladipo had 17 of his 21 points, making 7 of 12 shots (he was 8 for 18 for the game) to help jump start the comeback in the second half.
There just was not the offensive efficiency to come all the way back. And the energy and effort are not 48-minute consistent yet.
Starters go missing
The Magic’s starting lineup of Jameer Nelson-Arron Afflalo-Maurice Harkless-Andrew Nicholson-Kyle O’Quinn was AWOL offensively for the Magic on Friday night.
The group combined to score 31 points on 13-for-45 shooting. That is 28.9 percent shooting. Just abysmal. Something that cannot happen from a group of players that set the tone for the game. Orlando was playing out of a hole from the very beginning because of these struggles. There was no doubt about it.
Nicholson was not an offensive threat (just one field goal attempt). O’Quinn struggled to score around the basket (see above). Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson had their struggles however. Afflalo was just 2 of 10 from the floor on his way to 10 points. Jameer Nelson was a decent 5 for 11 for his 11 points. He added seven assists in a all too typical Jameer Nelson stat line.
The Magic got great performances from bench players. Oladipo turned things on and brought the energy in the second half after a slow first half. Tobias Harris had 15 points off the bench as well.
In the end, Orlando was unable to crack Charlotte’s defense consistently enough to win. The defense came alive in the second half after that poor second quarter. But those 12 minutes put the Magic too far behind the 8-ball. That is a common refrain the past two years really, and particularly this season.