The Orlando Magic held on to top the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday, 102-94, despite a 42-point performance from Hornets point guard Kemba Walker and the Magic's own offensive miscues in Charlotte's late rally.
Nik Vučević led six Magic players in double-figure scoring, registering 22 points to go with 11 rebounds and three assists. Evan Fournier and Ben Gordon scored 12 and 11 off the bench, respectively, and Tobias Harris added 21, including a key three-pointer with 1:35 to play which put the visitors up by 11 and appeared to seal the game.
After a disastrous first half, Walker erupted in the third quarter, drawing Harris on switches and shooting long, in-rhythm deuces over the Magic forward. Orlando's defense may have played into Walker's hot third, in which he scored 19 points on nine shot attempts: its aggressive off-ball defense of Al Jefferson, as well as its decision to switch screens, enabled Walker to get it going from midrange. But despite his going nova, Orlando increased its lead by three points in the frame.
The fourth quarter proved, as always, with this Magic club, an adventure: having established his midrange game, Walker leveraged Orlando's hard closeouts against it, getting to the rim and drawing contact, helping the Hornets stage a rally.
But even when the Magic's offense went off the rails--at one point, Orlando missed nine straight shot attempts--they maintained their defensive composure: on the rare occasions when it denied Walker the ball or he otherwise yielded it, his teammates couldn't convert in the packed painted area. And limiting Jefferson's touches proved sound: the veteran center only put up four shots in the second half, and his lack of involvement meant fewer Magic double-teams, and thus fewer chances for Charlotte to reverse the ball to an open shooter.
In addition to Vucevic's strong game--his strong, decisive moves against Jefferson in the post impressed--Orlando also got a great performance from Elfrid Payton in his fourth consecutive start. The rookie point guard dished eight assists without a turnover, and his 4-of-13 shooting belies the fact that he made sound decisions on when to shoot versus when to move the ball.
Upsetting the Southeast's worst team on its home floor doesn't impress, no, but Orlando is wanting for wins: it dropped seven of its previous nine before Saturday's game. The Magic kept their cool in a pressure-packed situation, on the road, against an on-fire individual opponent. In another rebuilding year, that sort of effort has to count for something.