The Orlando Magic fell into their familiar pattern of relaxing after holding a big lead once again tonight, blowing an advantage that reached 18 points in the third quarter as the Utah Jazz battled back in the fourth and earned a 104-94 win. Addressing the media after the game, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy called the loss "disturbing" multiple times, and it's hard to contest that point. In the last 15 minutes of the game, Utah outscored the Magic, 51-28, which is bad enough on its own. But, as Van Gundy pointed out, the Magic faced a similar situation Sunday against Charlotte "and didn't learn a thing from it." The manner in which they lost must be frustrating, too. Utah stymied Orlando's offense by switching to a simple two-three zone defense, which the Magic were unable to solve. The Jazz essentially let the Magic own the offensive glass for the privilege of not allowing them a good initial look in the first place. Rather than attack the seams of the zone or try to involve Dwight Howard inside, Orlando passed the ball around the perimeter and took difficult jumpers, thus wasting great efforts from Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter. The starting backcourt combined for 39 points on 62.5 percent True Shooting.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
The Magic's trouble began late in the third quarter, which Van Gundy called "ridiculous professional basketball" on his team's part. A silly pass by Brandon Bass fueled a Jazz fast break which ended with a three-point play for Paul Millsap. On the next possession, Rashard Lewis flubbed the ball, Raja Bell picked it up, and threw it ahead to Deron Williams for a layup over Chris Duhon, who busted tail to get back in transition. And after that? Another bad pass, this one from Carter, sailed out of bounds. Utah thus had the final possession, and ended the period with a Williams three-pointer. Orlando let a 17-point lead slip to just 9, at 74-65, in 58 seconds.
But the Magic didn't confine their sloppy play to the third quarter. They got off to a very slow start due to turnovers, but of a different sort than the ones that plagued them in the third. Moving screens and borderline traveling violations hurt them in the first half, whereas lazy passing and ballhandling took them down in the second half.
Switching to a zone defense was one great adjustment Jazz coach Jerry Sloan made. The other was running the offense through Williams in the post for much of the second half. Williams didn't look to score in these post-ups against Nelson and Duhon too often, but instead used his size to read the defense, making crisp passes to cutters from the weak side. The Magic have struggled with help defense so far this season, and at least twice tonight Dwight Howard ripped into his power forward for a blown rotation during a break in play.
Van Gundy didn't say his guys lacked effort tonight, preferring instead to say they "relax" whenever they have a lead. Against any NBA team, that's a dangerous habit. But Utah is particularly troublesome due to its complex, cut-oriented offense. In the first half, with the Magic engaged and mostly sound on D, the Jazz had to settle for long two-point jumper after long two-point jumper. Though they converted those jumpers at an impressive rate--58.9 percent for the game, according to HoopData--every defense in the NBA would rather concede aa jumper to Bell than a hook to Al Jefferson. In the second? They got the ball inside, helping the starting frontline of Millsap and Jefferson erupt. A quick turn of the head from a defender off the ball can result in a Utah dunk if Williams reads the defense right, and the floor is spaced correctly.
This win says a lot about the Jazz's resilience under fire, but it also speaks to the need for Orlando to make some changes. Luckily--and this is a point Van Gundy covered after the game--the Magic have 75 games left to improve.
The starting lineup, an issue which Van Gundy seemed to have solved earlier in the day, when he announced Quentin Richardson would start at small forward against smaller teams, and Ryan Anderson at power forward against bigger teams, is suddenly in flux again; Brian Schmitz covered this topic in exceptional depth for the Orlando Sentinel. For the second time in four outings, he benched Anderson in the first quarter and did not play him again. Brandon Bass got the call in Anderson's place. In the first 90 seconds, Anderson let Millsap establish deep post position and yielded a layup, and also committed two turnovers. Sloan shrewdly cross-matched small forward Andrei Kirilenko, giving him the Anderson assignment, and the 10-year vet used his long arms to poke the ball away from Anderson twice. Van Gundy said he didn't like Anderson's "approach" at the start of games. It seems to me--and I don't know this for sure, it's only speculation--that Anderson will not see the starting lineup for quite a while.
Perhaps easily overlooked, given the impressive manner in which Utah rallied, is Orlando's poor showing at the foul line. The Magic shot 14-of-25 from the stripe. Howard continues to struggle there, as he missed 7 of his 11 attempts.
The Magic ought to have won this game, but carelessness with the ball and loose defense in the second half did them in. It might be a game they look back on at the end of the year as one they let slip away. Or it could be one they regard as a learning experience. Given Van Gundy's reputation for excellent preparation, I doubt they're so lost the next time they face a zone defense, for example. The outcome is up to them.