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Portland Trail Blazers 89, Orlando Magic 85

The Orlando Magic put up a strong effort without All-Star center Dwight Howard, suspended for picking up a league-leading 16th techinal foul, against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, but couldn't take good enough care of the ball and thus fell, 89-85, at Amway Center. Jason Richardson scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting for the Magic and drained four three-pointers during their comeback in the third quarter, but he didn't get enough offensive help from his teammates in defeat. For Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge scored 24 in what proved to be just an OK game for him and his team, but it proved to be just enough for the Blazers to come away with their first season-sweep of Orlando in seven years.

In a slow game, the Magic committed 19 turnovers, or more than one for every five trips down the floor. That sort of shoddy ball control was too much for them to surmount despite a great all-around effort. The Magic limited the Blazers to 48.1 percent effective field-goal shooting, just below their season average, and won the rebounding battle by a 39-36 margin despite losing Howard, the league's best defensive player and second-leading rebounder.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Trail Blazers 86 103.6 48.1% 13.6 20.5 10.5
Magic 83 103.0 54.2% 11.3 22.2 23.0
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

The Magic played well enough overall to win this game. Keeping Aldridge below 30 while only having Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass guarding him has to rate as a huge achievement, and none of Aldridge's teammates really went off, either. Sure, Orlando conceded a lot of open jumpers in the first half, which Portland missed, but the exaggerated help-and-recover defensive scheme did its job. Orlando didn't lose this game on that end of the floor, that's for sure.

Here, it came down to keeping control of the ball. Orlando didn't, or couldn't, and the Blazers capitalized. Portland forced some of the errors with its trapping defense against Orlando's second unit, particularly in the second quarter, but chalk some of those up to mental errors. Jameer Nelson dishing to a spot on the floor where J.J. Redick was meant to be, for instance. Gilbert Arenas pushing off twice trying to create space for a shot. Quentin Richardson stepping on the sideline trying to drive to the basket. Any team playing without its star will see its margin for error reduced, in all facets of the game. Orlando exceeded its margin for error in the turnover area, leading to the loss.

Jason Richardson could do no wrong at the offensive end, as he catalyzed the Magic's scoring. His desperation three from approximately my living room, off an out-of-bounds play with two seconds on the shot clock, ignited the 16-5 run with which Orlando closed the third period, erasing a big Blazers lead. Arenas needed 9 shots to score 9 points, but he helped that run as well. I do think the Magic needed more from Bass. He's among the most offensively-minded players on the team, with a true talent for scoring, but he shot just 4-of-9 for 9 points. He's not a guy for whom you can run post-ups, as he lacks a refined back-to-basket game; this is true for 85 percent of the NBA, so that's not a knock on Bass. Still, rather than swinging the ball side-to-side for swinging the ball's sake, I would have liked to see the Magic run more pick-and-pops to free Bass for the 18-footers he cans with such great regularity; on the season, according to Synergy Sports Technology, he's made 50 percent of his long two-point jumpers, the fifth-best mark in the NBA for players who've tried at least 100 such shots.

Arenas, for all his faults, still outplayed Nelson tonight. Orlando's starting point guard and team co-captain shot 1-of-7 from the floor and committed five turnovers in just 21 minutes, ending a seven-game stretch of strong, double-figure-scoring performances. Arenas topped him--or bottomed him, if you prefer--with six turnovers, but overall did the better job of keeping the Magic competitive, and not letting Andre Miller run amok at the other end.

The fans in attendance booed Orlando off the court after they wasted precious seconds on their final possession. Trailing by 4 with 14 seconds left, Orlando over-dribbled and over-passed, and thus failed to get a shot up until 3 seconds remained on the game clock. The Magic could have, and should have, avoided such a grievous error, and they had two timeouts to burn. Hedo Turkoglu turned down a wide-open three with plenty of time remaining, preferring instead to swing the ball to the corner. Not the right move there.

Still, I don't think booing in that situation is warranted. They played hard on the night and came away looking okay, considering the circumstances. When it comes to booing the home team, I fall in line with what Doc Rivers once said when he coached the Magic: "you boo non-effort."

After playing eight of their last nine games at Amway Center, Orlando now embarks on a five-game, seven-day road trip to the West Coast and, of all places, Milwaukee. Howard will return to action when the trip kicks off Wednesday in Anderson's hometown of Sacramento.

Before closing: Earl Clark played his best game in a Magic uniform tonight. The second-year forward held his own at both ends of the court, contributing 9 points, 9 boards, and 3 blocked shots in 32 minutes. More importantly, he got his buckets efficiently (4-of-6 shooting) and within the flow of the offense. For a guy who's struggled with shot-selection and conversion early in his career, he demonstrated remarkable restraint tonight.