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Orlando Magic 97, New Jersey Nets 87

The Orlando Magic jumped out to a 32-18 lead against the New Jersey Nets in the first quarter tonight and did just enough on both ends of the floor throughout the rest of the game to avoid the indignity of losing to one of the worst teams of all-time, prevailing by a final score of 97-87. Small forward Matt Barnes led Orlando with 16 points, scoring 14 of them during the game's first seven minutes as Nets defenders simply failed to account for him in transition or beyond the arc. Point guard Jameer Nelson continued his strong play with 15 points and 8 assists (though we shouldn't read too deeply into that stat, as I'll explain), while Jason Williams, his backup, broke out of a long shooting slump to score 13 in just 19 minutes. Nets center Brook Lopez struggled against Dwight Howard, his Magic counterpart, for much of the game, but nonetheless finished with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, aided by a trio of late 20-footers that kept the game interesting. Howard contributed little offensively after the first quarter, but affected the game with his rebounding (16 total, 5 on the offensive glass) and shot-blocking (5 4) to once again turn in Orlando's strongest performance on the night. Yet coach Stan Van Gundy can't be happy with the fact that the Nets outscored his team after the first quarter, played harder for long stretches, and made 8 of their last 9 shots from the field.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 88 110.4 52.6% 20.8 28.6 18.2
Nets 91 95.6 42.5% 23.8 18.6 15.4
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

This game is not one of which Orlando can be especially proud. The Magic's hot outside shooting--13-of-31, for 41.9%--covered a lot of their mistakes, like failing to look for Howard in the post after the first period, or for throwing lazy passes that the Nets picked off with ease. The crisp ball- and player- movement that helped the Magic build their 14-point lead in the first period all but evaporated the rest of the way. Lots of one-on-one basketball tonight. That Orlando tallied assists on 24 of their 34 field goals is misleading: the Nets' scorekeepers were, in my estimation, a bit too generous awarding those stats tonight. For instance, when Brandon Bass fired in a 15-footer from the left elbow at the 4:24 mark of the final frame, he did so after taking two dribbles and a few steps from his left, yet the scorekeepers gave Nelson an assist. So I'm not looking too deeply into those stats, really.

I'll put it this way: a better team than the Nets would have beaten the Magic tonight based on how loosely they played. You can make an argument, I suppose, that the Magic wouldn't play so loosely against a better team. Still, you'd like to see them do what they did to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, namely put them in a deep hole and keep 'em there. Instead, the Nets were within 9 with 1:36 to play, and may have continued whittling the lead down were it not for Mickael Pietrus' trey from the top of the arc on Orlando's next possession. If that one rims out, the Nets have the ball and can make it a two-possession game with a three-pointer of their own, with a little more than a minute to play.

So the win is Orlando's third fourth straight, and maybe I'm being a bit too harsh. The Magic missed an inordinate amount of two-pointers tonight: Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter, for example, shot just 2-for-8 inside the arc. Barnes had a few layups bounce out. But my problems go beyond that. Effort and energy seemed to be an issue for the Magic almost the entire night. It's a March game in a dead arena against the worst team in basketball, but those circumstances applied to the Nets' game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, yet Cleveland cruised to a 19-point win.