The Orlando Magic lost their third game in four nights against the New Jersey Nets on Saturday, 103-93, due to a poor defensive effort and little-to-no offensive flow. Worse still, they lost Hedo Turkoglu with what appeared to be a rather serious sprained ankle in the 4th quarter. J.J. Redick also left the game after playing one fourth-quarter minute due to back spasms. The loss locks Orlando into the Eastern Conference's third playoff seed.
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First, the offense: Orlando had nothing doing. Second-leading scorer Rashard Lewis sat out for the first time this season due to knee tendinitis, leaving more work for Dwight Howard and Turkoglu. Howard was not up to the task, managing a mere 7 points on 2-of-7 shooting against Brook Lopez, the Nets' brick wall of a rookie center. Stan Van Gundy left him in the game for only 26 minutes. Turkoglu, meanwhile, looked fairly sharp and routinely drove to the basket, but it wasn't enough. He tallied 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting and appeared to be working himself into a groove until he injured his ankle trying to turn the corner on Yi Jianlian. Tony Battie, making his first start of the season, scored all 14 of his points in the first half. Brian Hill, the Nets assistant who coached the Magic two seasons ago, must have felt pretty good about that, seeing as though he started Battie ahead of Darko Milicic in all 82 games that season.
Defense is the real point of concern here. The Nets--playing without All-Star point guard Devin Harris--were able to get into the lane at will and create easy baskets for their bigs. Lopez and his backup, Josh Boone, combined for 24 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Even when the Magic took away the interior passing, the Nets moved the ball well enough to get open three-point looks, converting 11 treys in 20 attempts. Vince Carter, who led all scorers with 27 effortless points, had 4 triples and Bobby Simmons added 3 off the bench. New Jersey tallied assists on 27 of its 38 field goals. It's April. The Magic cannot, and should not, be having defensive breakdowns against anyone, especially not a lottery team missing its best playmaker. There really aren't any excuses, and Van Gundy said as much:
"I don't know what to tell you, it's bad and it's getting worse and we don't seem very determined to change it. I'm not making any excuses, pre-playoff blues are any of that crap. We're playing awful basketball."
Awful indeed. Van Gundy now faces a somewhat difficult decision: does he cut his starters' minutes to rest them for the playoffs? Or does he try to play them regular minutes in light of their recent poor play, trying to get them into the playoffs on a high note?