Orlando Magic 78, Milwaukee Bucks 72

The Orlando Magic nearly squandered their game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night after opening the game with a 14-0 lead, but scored the game's final six points to earn their 49th win, 78-72. The win, coupled with the Atlanta Hawks' loss to the San Antonio Spurs and the Philadelphia 76ers' loss to the Boston Celtics, locks Orlando and Atlanta into the East's fourth and fifth playoff seeds, respectively, assuring they'll meet in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals when postseason play begins next weekend.

The Bucks did not score until the 6:31 mark of the game when Dwight Howard touched a Drew Gooden layup attempt after it hit the backboard, making the score 14-2 in the Magic's favor. Howard scored the Bucks' next field goal as well, on a similar shot attempt by Corey Maggette. Keyon Dooling made the Bucks' first non-goaltended field goal when he drilled a three-pointer from the left corner at the 2:24 mark of the first. Coincidentally, each of those three players spent part of his career with the Magic, and each comes off Milwaukee's bench now. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute became the first Buck starter to score when he floated a shot in at the 7:05 mark of the second period.

I've listed these facts to give an idea of just how awful the Bucks are offensively, but also to show how dull the game was until the final moments. The Magic fell apart offensively after the first period, managing 52 points in the final 36 minutes of the game. More notably, Orlando missed its final 18 three-point attempts after opening the game 2-of-3 from beyond the arc.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Bucks 91 79.1 40.0% 16.0 9.5 19.8
Magic 91 85.7 40.3% 35.8 27.5 23.1
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

A three-point play from Gooden--his second in 93 seconds--tied the score at 72 with 2:01 left. Jameer Nelson answered on the Magic's ensuing possession, using a jab step to fool Brandon Jennings, then a Howard screen to ensure Jennings had no way to re-enter the play. His pull-up jumper just inside the arc put Orlando up for good, but it may not have been his best play of the night.

He missed a shot on the Magic's next possession--the Bucks failed to score--but creeped up behind Jennings as he tried to receive an outlet pass from Andrew Bogut, picking the second-year point guard's pocket. He dribbled the ball back out, killed some clock, and then made way for Hedo Turkoglu to extend the Magic's lead to four with a step-back jumper just before the shot-clock expired. Without that alert play by Nelson, the Bucks would have had another chance to tie Orlando or take the lead; without it, they found themselves in a two-possession hole with 47 seconds to go. Milwaukee can go 470 seconds without scoring, so at that point victory was well in hand for Orlando.

The Bucks rank as one of the few teams the Magic can hope to beat when it shoots less than 10 percent on threes, thanks entirely to their own horrid offense. I did think Milwaukee moved the ball well--it wasn't just standing around and dribbling in place--but the Magic's defense did a decent job rotating and, in many cases, forcing turnovers. Stan Van Gundy's teams don't do that historically, but the Bucks got sloppy with the ball tonight, leading to 12 Orlando steals. Nelson recorded five himself.

Four Magic players reached double figures, with Howard submitting a relatively quiet 18-point performance to go with his 17 rebounds. His best work came at the defensive end, where he limited Bogut to 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting in 27 minutes. His low number of shot attempts attests to Howard's ability to deny him the ball and the Bucks' turnover woes. Unable to get Bogut going, Milwaukee shifted to a draw-and-kick attack, with poor results. I'd say "mixed," bt the team scored 72 points in a 91-possession game, and I'm not willing to stretch the word that far.

The Magic's goal now is to get healthy and rested over the season's final four games. Following Wednesday's game against the Bobcats in Charlotte, the Magic will have two days off before reconvening Saturday to prepare for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bulls.

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