The Orlando Magic finally played a contentious game tonight, trailing the hot-shooting New Jersey Nets by 4 points at halftime before Jameer Nelson keyed a third-quarter surge, leading the Magic to a 105-90 victory in a sloppy, slow-paced contest. Nelson scored 10 of his 20 points in the third quarter, in which Orlando outscored Charlotte, 32-16, to wrest control. Dwight Howard dominated Brook Lopez in a matchup of two of the East's finest centers, with Howard posting 30 points and 16 boards while holding Lopez to 10 points on horrid 3-of-17 shooting, and 0-of-8 in the first half. The Nets held a solid lead, however, due to their perimeter play and energy. Devin Harris and ball-dominant forward Terrence Williams had no trouble penetrating the Magic's soft first-half perimeter defense, leading to open trey after open trey for New Jersey upon their kickouts. And neither Brandon Bass nor Marcin Gortat could keep the Nets' energetic bigs from getting the ball where they're most effective. Kris Humphries scored 8 of his 10 points before intermission on putbacks and garbage buckets, with the other deuce coming on a long two-pointer before the shot-clock expired.
|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.
Just a curious game for Orlando, whose first-half defense was arguably some of the worst its ever played under Stan Van Gundy. But the Magic made the necessary halftime adjustments, staying closer to New Jersey's shooters while keeping its bigs off the glass. One of those adjustments was starting Mickael Pietrus in the second half, in place of Ryan Anderson. Pietrus' assignment was to contain Travis Outlaw, and though the seven-year veteran burned Pietrus on the first possession they matched up offensively, Pietrus forced Outlaw into tougher shots the rest of the way. He finished with a team-best 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, but that's not all Pietrus' fault.
Nelson, via a score or assist, accounted for 20 of the Magic's 32 third-quarter points, and each of their first 14. Howard's greatness on both ends surely keyed the Magic's win, but Nelson's elevated second-half play was, to these eyes, more instrumental. Orlando's first-half offense was adequate in that it generated easy shots; the Magic simply didn't make them. Nelson made a greater effort to break down New Jersey's defense by attacking Harris off the dribble. It worked, to great effect.
Pietrus pulled his weight offensively by drilling 3 of his 4 three-point attempts. Brandon Bass tallied 6 points and 9 boards in just 18 minutes off the bench, continuing to be productive despite poor shooting. And Vince Carter had a quietly effective night, post 19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 three-pointers.
The news isn't all good for Orlando, though. Nelson left with 1:55 to play in the game after turning his left ankle trying to contest a Harris three-point attempt, for instance. His status for tomorrow night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats is uncertain, and given how lackluster his backup, Chris Duhon, has played, his potential absence is cause for concern. Anderson didn't play at all in the second half due to his poor defense of Troy Murphy, with coach Stan Van Gundy turning to Bass and Rashard Lewis to play power forward instead. And Lewis, though he drained the clinching buckets in the game's waning moments, continues to struggle with his shot. He finished 5-of-15 on the night for 12 points, including 2-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Orlando let the Nets back into the game in the fourth quarter, squandering a lead that had ballooned to 20 points with a series of defensive miscues; to use a rather tired metaphor, the Magic took their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter after flooring it in the third. Against a more talented team, this performance could have resulted in an embarrassing loss.