New Orleans Hornets 100, Orlando Magic 93

In yet another inexplicable letdown, the Orlando Magic blew a lead that stood at 18 points more than halfway through the third quarter as the New Orleans Hornets rallied for an impressive, emotional win by a 100-93 final. Power forward David West scored 40 points on 16-of-24 shooting, grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, and carried what had been an anemic offense for much of the game, while the Hornets received stellar support on defense and the glass from its bench. Shooting guard Marcus Thornton scored 18 of the bench's 26 points and added 7 rebounds; center Aaron Gray grabbed 7 rebounds and denied Dwight Howard position inside; and swingman James Posey managed 10 boards and played excellent defense. Howard scored 26 points for Orlando, and Jameer Nelson contributed 19 points and 11 assists, but the team simply could not hang onto the ball in the second half, nor could it grab an offensive rebound or make a three-pointer. Weirdly, tonight's loss makes Orlando 1-5 in its last six games played on a Friday, and it has blown double-digit leads in 4 of the 5 losses.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 88 106.4 53.9% 13.0 26.2 20.6
Hornets 88 113.2 50.0% 23.5 30.8 13.6
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

I'm not sure where to begin here, so it might as well be at the beginning. In the early going, West was New Orleans' only offense. He made his first 7 shots from the field--one was an obvious Howard goaltend that didn't look like it had a chance, but it counts anyway--and did so primarily with some tough, contested jumpers. But no other Hornet could ge free from Orlando's defense, which elected to leave Rashard Lewis or Ryan Anderson alone on West in order to check the Hornets' outside shooters. As a result, he wound up with 22 of his teams' 46 first-half points. Orlando held a 10-point advantage at intermission.

But Orlando was in better shape. It can live with West having a tremendous night as long as his teammates don't break out, and as long as its offense keeps humming along. That's what happened. Nelson and Howard played a beautiful pick-and-roll game during the first half and the opening minutes of the third quarter. It was the sort of basketball that propelled the Magic to a 33-8 start last season, with Nelson making a surprise appearance on the All-Star team prior to going down for the rest of the regular season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. If the Hornets' bigs showed even slightly on Nelson, he threaded the needle to Howard for two. If Nelson's man went over the screen, Nelson just took the ball to the rack and finished or, if the help-side defender committed, found the open man for a jumper. Just a tremendous game from both players in the first half.

It carried over into the 3rd. Really. When Orlando took a 71-53 lead at the 6:11 mark of the third for its largest margin of the night, West had scored 25 of New Orleans' points, while Howard had 22, Nelson and had 15 to go with 9 assists. But that's when the game turned. The Magic came up empty on each of their next 4 possessions, while the Hornets scored on each of their next 5 to cut their deficit to 8. The teams played each other evenly through the end of the period, meaning that for all the hard work it put in during the 3rd, New Orleans only shaved 2 points off Orlando's lead. But the Hornets, who've won several come-from-behind games this year, entered the fourth with confidence and perhaps some momentum.

The fourth quarter, well, it was all Hornets, as they held Orlando scoreless on its first 6 trips up the court: four missed shots (three of them from three-point range) and two turnovers. Meanwhile, at the offensive end, West finally got some help. Thornton and point guard Darren Collison, who'd both played inefficiently in the first stages of the game, began to connect on their jumpers. At the 4:27 mark, Nelson found Howard underneath for a dunk to give Orlando an 86-85 lead, which turned out to be its last of the night. The Hornets scored the game's next 11 points, and the Magic did themselves no favors by taking five three-pointers during that stretch. To be fair, the last 3 of those were necessary, given the time left and deficit faced, but Carter's heave with Orlando up one and 3:50 to play, and Nelson's with the Magic trailing by 1 and 3:06 to play weren't the greatest looks. Carter took another three on Orlando's next possession, of which some people might be critical, but Nelson set the table for him beautifully on the left wing, and Carter plenty of room to shoot. Per NBA.com's Hot Spots feature, he's 7-of-17 from that spot over the Magic's last 10 games, so I can't fault him for trying that one.

All told, Orlando scored 22 points on its 34 possessions after taking that 18-point lead, for an offensive rating of 64.7. It turned the ball over 8 times, for a 23.5% turnover rate. And it shot 8-of-26 from the floor, with 15 of those looks coming from the outside. Brutal, brutal numbers to look at.

For your edification, here's a chart showing who ended the Magic's final 34 possessions, and how they ended them. TO stands for turnover, FG stands for made field goal, FGX stands for missed field goal, and FT stands for foul shots.

Player TO FG FGX FT TOTAL
Ryan Anderson 0 0 1 0 1
Matt Barnes 1 1 1 0 3
Vince Carter 0 1 4 0 5
Dwight Howard 1 2 2 0 5
Rashard Lewis 1 0 2 1 4
Jameer Nelson 4 2 3 0 9
Mickael Pietrus 1 0 2 0 3
J.J. Redick 0 2 1 1 4
8 8 16 2 34

Again, as we've seen at times earlier this year, Orlando went away from Howard a bit. Granted, Pietrus' turnover was an ill-advised lob to Howard in transition, and Pietrus' missed threes came off kickouts from Howard, and Barnes' missed basket came off a putback attempt of Howard's miss, so he gets credit for officially ending the possession--and, by the same token, nothing shows up in this chart for Howard--so maybe that's a bit deceptive. Still, turnovers and a quick trigger from downtown early on played a huge role in killing Orlando's offense. And, facing a deficit, the Magic had to launch more threes and ignore Howard inside even more.

I'd like to note here that Posey, one of Carter's victims in Carter's 48-point night against this team earlier this month, played tremendous help defense in this game. He directly accounted for 3 of Orlando's final 8 turnovers, with a steal of a Nelson pass, a strip of Howard, and a legit charge on a Nelson drive. I tend to like Posey, but I do think he's a bit overrated and overpaid. However, he was indispensable this evening.

This game is one the Magic might look back on late in the year if they miss a certain playoff seed by a few losses. And it'll stay in our memories as arguably the worst loss in Stan Van Gundy's tenure coaching the Magic, which started in the 2007/08 season. But because it came against a Western Conference opponent, it will likely have no bearing on how the rest of the year plays out. Learn what you can from it, and move on.

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