Nikola Vucevic eclipsed the 40-point mark for the first time in his career, hit shots from downtown with the ease of a three-point specialist, and perhaps established himself as a legitimate stretch-five. And still, it wasn't enough for the shorthanded Magic.
Vucevic's career-high 41 points, which included six three-pointers, were wasted as the Magic fell to the lottery-bound Nets, 126-121, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Evan Fournier got a clean look on a corner three that would have evened the score at 124 in the final seconds but misfired. The loss came after an impressive opening night victory over the Miami Heat, as the Magic squandered the opportunity to start the season 2-0 for what would have been the first time since 2012.
The Magic, who were without Aaron Gordon due to a sore left ankle and lost Elfrid Payton to a strained left hamstring, pulled to within 117-113 after Vucevic hit his sixth and final three with just over two minutes remaining. Fournier then followed with a three of his own to cut the deficit to one. D'Angelo Russell responded by banking in a straightaway jumper plus the foul, though he missed the free throw, to increase the Nets' lead to 119-116. After free throws by both teams, Terrence Ross came off a screen and hit a three to pull the Magic within one with 14.9 seconds left. Allen Crabbe then hit two free throws to increase the lead to 124-121, setting the stage for Fournier's game-tying attempt.
Vucevic surpassed his previous career-high of 37 points, which he set in 2015. Vucevic, who last season hit a total of 23 three-pointers, finished 17-for-22 from the field, including 6-of-8 from three-point range. He scored 21 of his 41 points in the first half, converting on all four of his attempts from downtown, and also finished with 12 rebounds.
Vooch became the fourth Magic player to finish with 40+ points and 10+ rebounds in a game, joining Shaquille O’Neal (20 times), Tracy McGrady (10) and Dwight Howard (4).
Prior to the season, Magic coach Frank Vogel said that Vucevic would expand his range and become more of a three-point threat. After missing all three of his attempts in the opener, Vucevic converted on his first five threes against the Nets. Despite the result of the game, if his performance against the Nets is an indiction of things to come and he's capable of hitting the three consistently, his ability to stretch the floor will add a new and much-needed dynamic to the Magic offense.
The Magic, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last season, hit 18 threes and shot 54.5 percent from long range. The shooting prowess, however, couldn't compensate for the Magic's inability to get stops (37 points allowed in the fourth), failure to keep the Nets off the free-throw line (25-for-35), and poor protection of the basketball (22 turnovers).
Fournier had 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Ross added 11 points and Jonathon Simmons and D.J. Augustin each had 10. After not playing in the season opener, Mario Hezonja, Arron Afflalo, Marreese Speights and Shelvin Mack, who started the second half in place of Payton, all saw action against the Nets.
Rookie Jonathan Isaac started in place of Gordon, and this time remembered to put on his jersey before the game. The rookie got into early foul trouble, collecting his third foul midway through the second quarter. He finished with nine points, highlighted by an in-bounds alley-oop off a feed from Ross in the fourth.
Russell, DeMarre Carroll and Trevor Booker each had 17 to lead the Nets, who were without Jeremy Lin and got 64 points from their reserves.
The Magic now face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second game of a back-to-back with the availability of Gordon and Payton in question. They might need 50 out of Vucevic to keep it close.