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Magic 98, Suns 90: Andrew Nicholson erupts as Orlando goes 3-2 on roadtrip

The rookie from St. Bonaventure tallied career-highs with 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and four steals to end the Magic's two-game losing streak.

Andrew Nicholson, Luis Scola, Wesley Johnson, and J.J. Redick
Andrew Nicholson, Luis Scola, Wesley Johnson, and J.J. Redick
Christian Petersen

The Orlando Magic ended their five-game roadtrip with a 98-90 victory against the Phoenix Suns, finishing with a 3-2 record. Rookie forward Andrew Nicholson blew up for career-highs in scoring (19), rebounding (nine), assists (three), and steals (four), while J.J. Redick ignited what had been a stagnant Orlando offense by scoring 17 of his 20 points in the first half. Four other Magic players reached double-figures.

One night after his 23rd birthday, Nicholson shot 9-of-11 from the floor and earned crunch-time minutes. He punctuated the finest night of his young career by scoring nine of the Magic's 27 fourth-quarter points as they held off Phoenix, which trailed by just one point through three quarters. Glen Davis scored eight of his own in the period, six of them on layups as the Suns lost track of him on the weak side.

The Magic came out flat, as one might expect from a team playing for the fifth time in seven nights. They spotted the Suns a 13-4 lead in the opening six minutes of the game. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn saw pretty clearly that his starters didn't have the energy to make the game competitive, which explains why he went to his bench early and often: 10 Orlando players logged time in the first period, and nine of them checked in before six minutes had even elapses.

Vaughn's adjustment worked. Reserves accounted for 14 of Orlando's 20 first-quarter points and Orlando ended the period trailing by just three.

Once Orlando's offense settled down--it committed just two turnovers in the final 18 minutes of the first half--it began to pick apart a lazy, inattentive Suns group. One way to tell how poorly the Suns defended is to look at the free-throw numbers: Phoenix put Orlando in the bonus at the 6:23 mark of the second period. The Magic rank last in the NBA in free throws made per field goal attempt; they don't draw fouls. And yet here's Wesley Johnson body-checking Redick as Redick tees off for three in the right corner, for example. That foul was the second triple on which the Suns fouled Redick in the first half alone. Behind 17 from Redick, seven from E'Twaun Moore and six from Nicholson--all reserves--Orlando held a 53-48 halftime advantage.

You may notice here that I've yet to mention the Magic's defense, and that's by design: the Magic built their first-half lead on the strength of their offense. The Suns shot 52.6 percent in the opening 24 minutes, and 63.3 percent on two-pointers. Orlando did not hit hard, or first, on defense and conceded ground to a Suns squad playing without point guard Goran Dragić, its best overall player and playmaker.

The Magic's first-quarter problems returned to bother them in the third: Orlando's offense had no rhythm, even when Redick replaced Maurice Harkless, and it resulted in sloppy turnovers: Moore dribbled the ball off his foot. Jameer Nelson left his feet with the ball and came down with it again. Davis airmailed a pass four feet over Afflalo's head. Suns guard Shannon Brown, meanwhile, got his outside shot working after a rough first half in which he missed two layups, helping the hosts erase a nine-point deficit and build a lead which reached six points. Brown scored 10 of his team-high 17 points in the third quarter.

Orlando recovered in the final three minutes of the third when the Suns took out Jared Dudley, who had been Phoenix's most energetic player. Afflalo took the ball right at Michael Beasley, who replaced Dudley, to score on Orlando's first possession after the substitution. Nicholson sank two jumpers and assisted on a Nikola Vučević layup to help the Magic close the period with a one-point edge.

Final - 12.9.2012 1 2 3 4 Total
Orlando Magic 20 33 18 27 98
Phoenix Suns 23 25 22 20 90

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