The Charlotte Bobcats extended to three games the Orlando Magic's losing streak Friday with a 91-80 victory. The Magic, playing without starting center Nik Vučević, had no answer for Al Jefferson inside: the 10th-year center tallied an effortless 29 points and 16 rebounds on 13-of-24 shooting to pace his club. Thanks in part to Vučević's efforts, Orlando limited Jefferson to 20 points and eight boards on March 28th, which totals he exceeded in the first half of Friday's game alone.
The Bobcats provided their best player with ample help: Kemba Walker tallied a 13-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist triple-double, while Anthony Tolliver came off the bench to tally 13 points with four three-pointers .
Jameer Nelson did his level best to keep the game competitive, scoring nine of his 11 points in the first half, but the Magic's supporting players didn't offer much support. Arron Afflalo, the Magic's leading scorer on the year, shot 2-of-10 for eight points. After a four-point first half, Victor Oladipo erupted in the second, tallying 17 points after intermission to finish with a team-best 21.
The Magic kept the game competitive for the opening quarter, never trailing by more than five points and drawing to within one at its conclusion thanks to a pair of Oladipo foul shots. Still, there were signs for concern: Jefferson scored at will, notching 10 points in the period on 5-of-7 shooting. Jefferson's variety of moves around the basket area make him a tough cover for even the savviest of veterans, so one can imagine how the likes of Kyle O'Quinn and Dewayne Dedmon fared in single-coverage against him.
Jefferson maintained his dominance in the second period, during which the Bobcats extended their lead to as large as 21 points before taking a 17-point edge into intermission. As Orlando's offense stalled, Jefferson continued to cook, scoring another 10 points in just six minutes on 5-of-6 shooting. Tolliver kept the floor spread by drilling three treys from the top of the arc, complicating the task of assigning double-team defenders to assist on Jefferson.
A jumper from--who but?--Jefferson at the 5:10 mark of the third quarter re-extended Charlotte's lead to 21 points. From there, Orlando made its run, closing the period on a 13-4 run to close to within 12 points heading into the fourth quarter. Orlando improved its defense to get back into the game, holding the Bobcats without a field goal--Jefferson went oh-for on four tries--and forcing five turnovers in that stretch.
The run continued into the fourth, which period Tobias Harris opened with a three-pointer. A triple from Oladipo moments later brought the Magic to within seven points. Improbably, the Magic had whittled a 21-point deficit down to a three-possession one on the road against a likely playoff team.
But a costly error on Charlotte's next possession stalled the Magic's momentum: Orlando forced Walker to miss a tough pull-up jumper, but the waterbug point guard beat three Magic defenders to the offensive rebound, allowing the Bobcats to reset their offense. The ball swung to Gary Neal, who drove the lane and converted a floater while absorbing a bump from Doron Lamb. The three-point play put Charlotte's lead back in double-digits. A trey by Tolliver, his fourth of the night, gave Charlotte a 12-point lead with seven minutes to play, and Orlando would never again trim its deficit under double-digits.
The Magic did well to rally back as they did, but they can't afford to spot any opponent a lead as large as 21 points and hope to come back. Not on the road and especially not without Vučević, arguably their best player. It's hard to fault the Magic's overall effort--its block and steal numbers attest to that much--but the team is capable of more than it showed Friday, particularly in its miserable first half.