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Mavericks 121, Magic 108: Orlando's defense struggles again

The Magic were routed on the road due to their poor defensive effort.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As the Magic try to turn their season around, they need to rediscover the defense that propelled them to a winning record in the first two months of the season, especially if they hope to make the playoffs.  That defense was not present tonight, and Orlando was blown out in Dallas, 121-108.  Ersan Ilyasova, getting big minutes thanks to fouls and garbage time, led all scorers with 22 points, while Nikola Vucevic led the Magic starters with 18 points, all of it coming in the first half.  Wesley Matthews and Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 21 and 19 points, respectively.

The first quarter kicked off on a high note for the Magic, who started Mario Hezonja for the second game in a row as Evan Fournier works his way back from his wrist injury.  Vucevic was the focal point early on, getting 10 points of 5-10 shooting.  In particular, the Magic took advantage of several fast break opportunities off misses and turnovers. They were sharp defensively as well, and the effort on both ends led to a double-digit lead for Orlando early.  Things changed when the Magic were forced to bring in bench guys early thanks to fouls on the entire starting lineup.  The pace slowed for the Magic and the mistakes piled up defensively, and the Mavs quickly erased the deficit.  The finished the quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 35-27 lead.

The commitment to the "no defense" strategy by both sides continued in the second, with each team putting up 34 in the frame.  Nowitski found his rhythm while being defended by Ilyasova early in the quarter, getting 11 points to help increase Dallas's lead.  It wasn't until most of the starting lineup returned for Orlando that they were able to stabilize. Compounding the injury issue was Orlando's foul trouble, as Dallas had drawn 18 fouls by halftime.  It was bad enough that seldom-seen Devyn Marble logged minutes to finish out the quarter.  Overall, Dallas shot 65% in the first half, while also getting to the free throw line for a whopping 20 free throw attempts.  Orlando's one advantage was on the offensive glass, where they grabbed 9 boards, including 4 from Vucevic.  He had 18 points to lead all scorers in the half.  Dallas led 69-61.

Things went off the rails in the second half for Orlando, who didn't score until nearly six minutes in.  While they simply missed a few good looks on their first few possessions, they quickly devolved into jacking well-covered shots as the passing dwindled.  Following one such shot by Hezonja, Scott Skiles was prompted to pull nearly the entire starting lineup, bringing in Jennings, Watson, Marble, and Dedmon while keeping Gordon in the game.  It wasn't long until Gordon was forced to exit too, however, as he picked up his fifth foul.  The Mavericks' lead reached 21 at one point, but unlike the first half, the bench unit was able to steady the ship.  They played with more energy and with a balanced offensive effort.  They were able to cut into the lead slightly, but Dallas still led 96-81.

In the fourth, the Magic were able to cut the lead as close as 13, but the Mavericks' offense would not let up.  A few of the starters came back for mostly fruitless minutes before Skiles cleared the bench again to finish out the game.  The Mavericks, who average roughly a 44 FG% and 23 free throw attempts a game, shot 56% on the night and 31 FTAs.  In contrast to their previous meeting in February, the Magic were unable to find their defensive footing, and the result is another blow as they try to rally to make the playoffs.