The Orlando Magic dropped their eighth straight game on Saturday, 114-106, to the New York Knicks as they were unable to stop Carmelo Anthony in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter. Anthony scored 16 of his game-high 40 in the final 12 minutes as the Knicks wiped out an eight-point deficit.
Afflalo plays through severe pain
Arron Afflalo scored a team-high-tying 29 points in Saturday's loss, but he very nearly had to exit the game in the first half after taking a hard fall on a drive to the basket.
"It was just an incredible effort for him to come out in the second half," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "I didn't know if he was going to be able to continue to go [in the second half]." The first-year coach said he called the first play of the second half for Afflalo in order to "gauge" the UCLA product's game-readiness.
"These are times where you show your teammates not only with what you say but what you do, and for him to come out after halftime and play the way he did and give the effort that he did, that's growth for our team."
Afflalo said his leg felt numb after the fall in question: "It was very painful in the second quarter. I didn't think I could come back. I really couldn't run."
Türkoğlu still shaking off rust
Hedo Türkoğlu has logged four games since returning from a 28-game layoff, and his performance has been as uneven as one might expect. The veteran forward has 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting in the four games, with 12 assists and nine turnovers. In Orlando's last two games, he's mustered only one point on 0-of-8 shooting from the field.
"He's working himself back in," Vaughn said, when asked to explain Türkoğlu's struggles. "He had a lot of time off and some of that time he could not condition, and that's part of it. And part of it is rhythm and playing with different guys on the floor. He's a pro. It's just going to take him a bit of time to get back in the swing of things, but he's gonna be OK."
Türkoğlu broke his left (non-shooting) hand in Orlando's season-opening victory against the Denver Nuggets. He missed nearly two full months as he recovered from the ensuing surgery.
As documented in this post, Vaughn cited matchups as a reason for limiting starting power forward Andrew Nicholson to 14 minutes against New York.
But when Nicholson did play, he was effective: the rookie from St. Bonaventure shot 5-of-6 for 11 points and served as the focal point of Orlando's offense for the game's first six minutes. The Knicks even double-teamed him in the post on two occasions, once forcing a turnover and another time conceding an open three-pointer to Jameer Nelson.
I understand Vaughn's reluctance to play Nicholson against certain matchups, but the way the rookie scrambled New York's defense as the Magic got off to a 14-2 start in the game should serve as a reminder that the Magic can dictate matchups, if they so choose, rather than reacting to what their opponents do.
Nicholson's plus-14 differential led the Magic. On the season, Orlando is two points better per 36 minutes with Nicholson on the floor. Jameer Nelson's plus-0.6 ranks second on the team.
Ayón, Moore still out
Orlando found itself without Gustavo Ayón on Saturday as the second-year center was unable to play due to a contusion on his right thigh. Apart from confirming the reason for Ayón's absence, Vaughn had no update on his status.
Backup point guard E'Twaun Moore didn't dress either. The second-year player sprained his left elbow on December 28th against the Washington Wizards and has not played since.
Late-game offense another concern
Afflalo said that the Magic's late-game defense is an area of concern--more on that point in this post--but he also said Orlando's offense could use some work as well. "[J]ust trying to simplify our offense down the stretch and being smart about the things we need to do to close games out," Afflalo said, after noting that Orlando has consistently been able to stay in games before coming up short in crunch time.
Orlando shot just 7-of-21 in the fourth quarter, with two turnovers, to finish with 17 points. Afflalo did most of that work himself, scoring nine points on 3-of-4 shooting.
New York's defense nightmarish for Orlando
Anthony and his Knicks turned heads Saturday, and throughout the season, due to their eye-popping offensive numbers. But Vaughn said not to undersell New York's defense.
"They start basically two seven-footers (Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby), and a point guard that has cat-like reflexes (Jason Kidd), and a shooting guard (Ronnie Brewer) that's pretty good at getting steals, and we've seen the growth of Carmelo defensively. So their abilityjust to get in passing lanes, their length, their schemes... it's the reason why they're playing extremely well and one of the best teams in the league."
Statistically, New York remains a pedestrian defensive club, but Vaughn has a point about the Knicks' ability to create turnovers. Orlando committed 14 of them on Saturday, resulting in 23 New York points.