Injuries are never an excuse in professional sports. “Next man up”, as the expression goes.
But it was clear Wednesday night that the short-handed Magic, who were playing without five rotation players, just didn’t have the depth needed to hang in with the Brooklyn Nets late in the game.
Jonathan Isaac (foot), Jonathon Simmons (wrist), and Wes Iwundu (sick) all missed Wednesday night’s game against the Nets. Of course, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross (both have been out with knee injuries) were sidelined as well.
This lack of depth, especially on the perimeter, proved costly against a Brooklyn team that likes to play position-less and force teams into uncomfortable match-ups.
The Nets never trailed in the contest, but only possessed a four point lead heading into the game’s final period.
However, the first five minutes of the fourth quarter belonged to the Nets. A 17-2 run to open the period helped Brooklyn run away from the Magic, 111-104.
“I’ll have to look at the tape to see specifically what happened with each of those possessions,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “But certainly that was a deciding stretch in the game.”
Seven Brooklyn players scored in double-figures, led by D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert (16 points each). DeMarre Carroll posted a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Vogel’s squad came out sluggish, surrendering an 8-0 Nets run to open the game. Following a quick timeout, the Magic came to life behind strong early efforts from Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic (who combined to score Orlando’s first 20 points).
Neither team played with a ton of defensive effort in the first quarter. The Magic and Nets combined for 69 points in the opening period (Nets: 5-10 3PTA’s, Magic: 4-8 3PTA’s in first quarter).
Rodney Purvis, who started the game for the first time in his career, had a miserable first half. Purvis was called for three personal fouls while failing to score a point. Orlando announced earlier in the day that Purvis, whose second 10-day contract was set to expire, had been signed for the rest of the season (and next season, though non-guaranteed).
Orlando struggled offensively in the second quarter (7-22), and understandably so. With so many guys out due to various injuries, the Magic second unit was pretty thin.
The Nets outrebounded the Magic 25-18 in the first half and took a seven point lead into intermission.
Brooklyn’s lead ballooned to 15 points in the third quarter, but the Magic responded by closing out the period on a 14-4 run, led once again by Vucevic (10 in the quarter).
Unfortunately, Orlando’s energy was non-existent to begin the fourth quarter. The team was as flat as could be, and the Nets quickly pulled away; extending their lead to 19 points with six minutes remaining.
A late push by the Magic, coming from namely Mario Hezonja, helped tighten the final score - but it was all for naught.
“These guys (Brooklyn) have been a tough match-up for us all year because of their penetration ability,” Vogel said. “We knew this was going to be a challenge coming in and we didn’t do a very good job keeping the ball in front of us.”
“Our whole team (still) has a long way to go on the defensive end,” Vogel added in his post-game conference.
Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 24 points and 15 rebounds in a losing effort. Hezonja had 23 points and 7 rebounds.
The Magic will look to get back on track Friday night at home against the Chicago Bulls.