Limping to the finish


Jameer Nelson spent the final 20 seconds of regulation sizing up Devin Harris. It was his chance for some “hero ball” and to send Orlando to Denver with a win on this mini-West Coast swing.

Nelson was doing what he needed to all game, getting to the basket on pick and rolls and playing with the confidence that he has not displayed consistently since 2009 and 2010. The Magic’s co-captain knows he has to be creating for his teammates and making a living in the paint among the trees.

The end of the game was his to take.

Nelson though was on his last legs. You could see it in the shots he was passing up, the lanes he was opting not to take. Yes, this was his moment. But, much like Orlando’s overtime loss to San Antonio when Stan Van Gundy opted to go for three and the win instead of two and the tie, Nelson needed to hit this shot to get the win and get some rest.

Ryan Anderson came for a pick and roll and Nelson began his move. He opted to decline the screen as Anderson leaked out toward the wing and a potential 3-pointer. Nelson though could not turn the corner as Harris cut him off. Nelson continued to try and create space for himself. And in a moment where Nelson had been so easily getting around and into the paint and to the rim, Nelson elected to go with the pull up 3-pointer.

Harris blocked it. Overtime ensued, and the Magic did not stand a chance.

Al Jefferson paced Utah and Gordon Hayward and Devin Harris each hit 3-pointers to help the Jazz stay in control of the eighth seed in the West and send the Magic to another loss despite a strong effort without Dwight Howard in a 117-107 loss at Energy Solutions Arena on Saturday.

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Orlando scored only six points in the overtime period, with jump shots clanging and players dragging to get up the floor. Those two back-breaking 3-pointers came when the Magic opted to double team Al Jefferson, for the first time in the game, and failed to rotate back out to the 3-pointers. Harris’ three, especially, you could see Nelson going out to the spot Harris was at before moving after the pass. Nelson was completely unaware and unable to rotate back.

Again, the Magic fought extremely hard and had a chance to win the game. But Stan Van Gundy had to ask more from his players than they could give once again. Three players logged more than 40 minutes and Quentin Richardson and J.J. Redick each played 30-plus more each.

Orlando was once again strong offensively, but this is a team that has to outscore its opponents to win.

The first and third quarters were where the Magic were at their best, with Jameer Nelson working his way into the paint on his way to 23 points and 11 assists. The ball whipped around quickly and the Magic had the offense flowing. Jason Richardson scored 16 of his 21 points in the first half, including the first nine points of the game. Orlando certainly seemed capable of keeping up offensively.

The defense, is another story. And it continues to be another story.

Stan Van Gundy said the Magic simply cannot guard anyone right now. No one. Absolutely no one.

That was clear as Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors pounded the paint with a 62-36 advantage in the paint. Jefferson had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Millsap caused all kinds of problems on his way to 18 points (although he was 5 for 13 to get there). Favors had 16 points and 11 rebounds in a key second quarter where Utah erased a 13-point Orlando lead.

All that attention in the paint and defensive struggles overall allowed Utah to come back time and time again. The Magic nearly did not get to overtime thanks to a foul called on Quentin Richardson after Millsap grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a putback that the referees ultimately did not count. Jefferson still managed to tie the game.

Utah, as a team, shot 53.4 percent. Orlando, which was shooting better than 50 percent at the half, ended up shooting an icy 43.8 percent. The Magic made 15 3-pointers to stay in the game.

The shooting was key for Orlando as you would expect to keep them alive. So was the effort.

Again, the effort is not always enough. Not with the defense unable to get stops for very long stretches and help the team maintain the lead. Until that happens, this will be a nice and fun team to watch, but one that will bow out of the Playoffs with little fanfare.

The question is what does Stan Van Gundy and this team expect of themselves? Is this enough for them?

That is the question these final three games will have to answer.