Poor offensive execution and timely baskets allowed led the Orlando Magic to drop their 8th straight game against a team with a winning record, 99-93, to the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night. Dwight Howard scored 20 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots, but Orlando shot just 5-of-21 from three-point range, committed turnovers for 20 Hornets points, and let Willie Green score a season-high 24 points in defeat. The loss so vexed Orlando's fans at Amway Center they booed the team off the court, as the Magic scored just 2 points on their final 13 possessions after Earl Clark's long jumper knotted the score at 91 with 6:33 remaining. David West tallied 17 points and 17 boards in the win.
The frustration mounted throughout the game, but especially in the final 18 minutes of the first half, in which New Orleans scored five three-point plays and had another three-point basket. The Hornets' complementary players, which Green led with his season-best output, helped New Orleans build the lead even with West and franchise point guard Chris Paul sitting. The two stars scored just 5 of the Hornets' 33 points in the period, with the illustrious Green (5), Jarrett Jack (13), Trevor Ariza (2), David Andersen (6), and Aaron Gray (2, on a broken play) providing the other 28.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
These weren't all layups for New Orleans, either. The Hornets made more than their fair share of difficult shots against pretty good defense. Speaking broadly, the Magic played good defense for the first period and the entire second half, particularly in the halfcourt. They had trouble containing the Hornets in that second period, especially with dribble penetration; sideline reporter Paul Kennedy spoke to Magic assistant coach Bob Beyer during the game and learned New Orleans scored 24 of their second-period points on a whopping 17 drives to the lane, what Beyer termed an "astronomical" level of efficiency.
So while it may appear, based on Green's whopper of a night, that Orlando's defense was an issue, the real problem was offense. The song remains the same: the three-pointers stopped falling--really, they never started--and the team largely ignored Howard on the interior after a hot start. He needs more than 12 shot attempts and 12 free-throw attempts when matched up against the likes of Gray, D.J. Mbenga, and Jason Smith, let's put it that way. New Orleans ranks as one of the league's best defenses, but had lost four straight games, and six out of seven, with defensive-oriented center Emeka Okafor sidelined. I credit them for playing with tremendous energy, on both ends, clearly desperate to earn a win. Still, the Magic had a great chance to push their winning streak to three against a scuffling team, and couldn't do it.
But they at least fought their way back into it with an impressive third quarter of basketball, with players who struggled to get involved in the first half suddenly making it happen against a good defensive team. Ryan Anderson and Jason Richardson, who failed to score in the first half, came alive in the third; Gilbert Arenas closed the period with consecutive long two-pointers to knot the score at 80 apiece, setting the scene for an exciting final frame.
But when the time came for Orlando to build a lead and pull away, it couldn't score. The Hornets couldn't either--they struggled to get any good looks up against an impressively energetic and focused Magic defensive front--but they still mustered enough to come out with the victory. Here's how Orlando's final possessions played out following Clark's tying jumper:
Arenas misses a pull-up jumper;
Jameer Nelson misses a layup;
Hedo Turkoglu misses a fading, contested, step-back jumper from the left corner;
Turkoglu throws a bad pass;
Clark sets a moving screen trying to free Nelson on the right wing in delayed transition;
J.J. Redick misses an ugly, unorthodox floater in the lane;
Ryan Anderson misses a jumper;
Nelson throws an awful lob pass intended for Howard on the break, which Paul steals;
Turkoglu throws a pass out of bounds trying to feed Redick on the right wing for an open three;
Redick scores on a driving layup the Hornets conceded to him once he beat Green off the dribble;
and with the Magic down 3 and 25.7 seconds to play, Turkoglu throws an inbounds pass out of bounds, low and just out of Richardson's reach.
The Magic came up empty on their next two trips as well, but the game wasn't in doubt after that. During that stretch of Orlando's sad futility, the Hornets managed to score three times: West bagged a long jumper; Green drilled a Kobe Bryant-esque fadeaway under duress from the right baseline, a shot he won't make uncovered in an empty gym 9 times out of 10; and West split a pair of free throws following an intentional Orlando foul. Adding to the Magic's weird night, they used Nelson and Turkoglu to double-team Chris Paul, a 90 percent free-throw shooter, on an inbounds play, but Paul got free anyway, caught the ball, and sank the free throws to give New Orleans a 99-93 lead with 22 seconds left. It was an appropriate way to end the competitive portion of a bizarre game for Orlando.
Brian Schmitz says coach Stan Van Gundy and Howard are blame for the loss. Van Gundy's issue is not forcing his players to feed Howard inside, and Howard needed to demand the ball more. Van Gundy, for his part, said he "was terrible tonight," according to Zach McCann.
Maybe I should have saved this post, originally made the night Orlando lost to the Boston Celtics, for after this performance. Put another way, if the team isn't in disarray then, it is now.