Trailing the Phoenix Suns by as many as 19 points, the Orlando Magic staged a furious second-half rally and took a 4-point lead midway through the 4th period, but faltered from there and lost, 106-103, giving them their first losing streak of the year. Rashard Lewis (24 points) and Mickael Pietrus (a season-high 23) carried Orlando's offense, while Dwight Howard anchored the defense and the glass. But ultimately, the Suns' efficient offensive attack was too much. Steve Nash matched the entire Magic team with 18 assists, scoring 20 points of his own. Amar'e Stoudemire led all scorers with 28 points, including a dunk with 6.9 seconds to play to preserve Phoenix's win.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Orlando showed its road-weariness early on, and one long dry spell in the first quarter may have proven to be the difference. Howard made the first of two free throws, but missed the second, which Lewis rebounded. Lewis' ensuing 3-pointer rattled out, but Howard corralled it. Stoudemire stole the ball, fueling a layup by Grant Hill in transition. His shot tied the game at 9.
So that's one possession which resulted in one point for Orlando. For the next 6:37, the Magic had 12 possessions, and did not score on any of them. 6 consecutive misses--all jumpers--followed by 6 consecutive turnovers. By the time Pietrus freed himself for an easy dunk underneath to end the drought, Phoenix had taken a 24-11 lead. No team can afford to come up empty against an offense of the Suns' caliber, and especially one that runs the fast break as well as Phoenix does. Discard that awful Magic stretch and you see they scored 103 points on 83 possessions, for an offensive rating of 124.1. Too bad the 12 abominable ones there do, indeed, count in the final score.
Mistakes late doomed the Magic as well; they weren't isolated. They yielded back-to-back, open, corner three-pointers to Jared Dudley and Jason Richardson, which gave the Suns a 101-99 lead. On some level, you're happy they covered Nash and Stoudemire on the pick-and-roll and forced the kickout. But man, those shots are backbreakers. Moments later, trailing by a single point, Nash coughed the ball up into Howard's hands, giving the Magic a transition opportunity. Backup point guard Anthony Johnson, who scored all 11 of his points in the 4th quarter to keep the Magic in the game (!), dribbled the outlet pass off his foot. The ensuing possession set up Stoudemire's offensive rebound and dunk to seal the game. You'll recall that poor box-outs cost the Magic against the Heat three weeks ago, when putbacks by Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley gave Miami a narrow, one-point victory.
The theme here, I suppose, is that the tired team made mental errors throughout the game to lose when they might have otherwise won.
I'm sure the media will latch onto Howard's only getting one shot attempt--two minutes into the game!--in 41 minutes and make a big deal of it, especially after a game in which he got only 11 shots in 44 minutes. Fact is, Howard got his touches: 5 turnovers, 17 free-throw attempts, 2 assists, and several other wise passes out of double-teams. The Suns forced the Magic to look elsewhere. The absence of go-to-scorer Vince Carter in the second half due to a sore knee made scoring that much more difficult.
A tough loss to take any time. Orlando split its 4-game Western trip, squandering double-digit leads in three games and having to battle back in another. It's clear that the Magic aren't as sharp now as they were weeks ago, when Jason Williams first took over for Jameer Nelson as the starting point guard and could hardly do wrong. 22 assists, 11 turnovers, and 48.3% eFG% on the trip overall, and 11 assists to 7 turnovers in the last 2 games. The bloom is off the rose a bit, yes?
Orlando has plenty of time to regroup, as it doesn't play again until Monday, and will play 7 of its final 8 games of 2009 at home. The Magic are due to bounce back, but the results of this road trip certainly raise troubling questions. At least it's still December.