The Orlando Magic shot right when Aaron Gordon heated up to take the Magic to a win. (Photo by Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)
It’s never easy to end a long streak of bad luck. There is always the potential that in the end everything will fall away. There’s always that voice in the back of your mind that everything is falling apart. That the same things will happen and the team will fall.
Losing shatters trust. And the really good teams can smell and attack that fear. Losing this way can be contagious. It’s as much a mindset as anything else.
The Orlando Magic certainly looked shaken as they watched their 19-point lead to cut the fourth quarter down to six. They struggled to create a lot of trouble and didn’t get their first field goal until after the middle of the fourth quarter.
You’ve certainly felt the pressure coming from a team that hasn’t won in almost a month (yes , an all-star break was in the middle).
It’s easy to forget how to dig deep and win, even with the best of intentions and efforts and energy to get the win.
The only place you can start breaking this habit is to do it once, even if it’s dirty.
The magic resisted the star-studded Brooklyn Nets and held a rush by Kyrie Irving and a late rush from James Harden as the lead quickly dissolved.
But the team is ahead. Evan Fournier resigned three. Aaron Gordon replied to one of his own on one night of a three when he hit seven out of eight from downtown. And then Nikola Vucevic hit a great jumper too.
Gordon may have frozen the game when he took a missed Fournier shot to give the magic some breathing space. The Nets ran out of time to return with a 121-113 win at the Amway Center in the fourth quarter, despite multiple mistakes by Magic.
Orlando can thank some energetic shooters for this. Even at the far end of a back to back, a few shots can do wonders for the team. Orlando scored 13 3-point points in the first half, setting a franchise record for the most three-pointers in the half. The Magic made 21 out of 40 for the game.
That will always be important in keeping a strong offensive team like the Nets.
Luckily for the Magic, the Nets didn’t have the same 3-point luck. They only made 10 out of 37 3-handers. And Orlando did a pretty good job, for the most part, of keeping both Kyrie Irving and James Harden off the assembly line. It was one of the few things that magic in the game could do well defensively.
At this point, Orlando will take every win it can find. And every NBA team is going to have a night when the ball finally comes in. Despite the poor fourth quarter, the magic did enough to win the game.
Aaron Gordon came out early and fired. He hit seven of his eight 3-pointers. That confidence in getting some early punches and playing on his forefoot was critical for the Orlando Magic to take the early lead and never really let go. The magic would never be able to come from behind and win this game.
Gordon put constant pressure on the Brooklyn Nets defenses with his shooting and even driving. He methodically tried to get to the basket and got his share of free throws. But if Gordon doesn’t track it down, his offense could be a little tricky. This was just one game where all of Gordon’s dribble moves resulted in baskets.
Gordon finished 14v20 with 38 points. Its only flaw was its seven turnovers. Playing as a backup point guard – and closing the lineup point guard – is still in the works. Teams with defenders who can put pressure on him on the back seat can seriously disrupt Magic’s offensive and force him to make mistakes.
Evan Fournier was clearly frustrated after Orlando Magic’s loss to the New York Knicks on Thursday. He tore his jersey off after citing a rookie mistake. He was careful not to make the same mistake again. He played as perfectly as possible, shooting from all over the ground and providing the team with a solid base.
Fournier finished the 10v13 shooting with 31 points, including six points out of eight from a distance. He made sure he didn’t make these mistakes again. He hit the big hits so the magic could freeze the game as the lead waned. The Brooklyn Nets’ shifting defense kept the Orlando Magic in trouble all night, but Evan Fournier found his pockets and made sure things happened to secure the win.
It’s rare for Nikola Vucevic to have a game in which he fights off the ground. It is less common for the Orlando Magic to win these games or have a chance to win both games. That’s what more starters have back. But the Brooklyn Nets did a good job, largely removing Vucevic from his element with counters and good post rejections. He finished with 22 points but on 8v24, including 2 for 8 from outside the arc.
Vucevic was still finding opportunities to contribute elsewhere. He had 14 rebounds and eight assists. It was largely defensive in color, preventing the nets inside from freely ruling. In the fourth quarter, Vucevic started finding his stroke. He hit several big shots to keep the magic up front.
Khem Birch is never expected to do much. And especially in a matchup like this, asking him to guard the smaller Brooklyn Nets lineups seemed like a challenge. But it held its ground to a large extent. It was firmly on the glass, making sure the magic won the rebound fight. Birch remains a stone defensively. And this consistency is the reason why he plays a lot more.
The Orlando Magic will have to get something offensive from him at some point. You can’t just come up empty with him. And his inability to consistently catch passes essentially leaves him in the corner as a non-shooter. Birch finished with two points and seven rebounds. That was about all the bank could give.
The Brooklyn Nets are still a dangerous team even on their worst days. Kyrie Irving took the lead from Orlando Magic with a 13-point run towards the end of the second quarter. And he and James Harden nearly led a 19-point comeback to open the fourth quarter. Throughout the game it felt like the magic was waiting for the nets to stop going through the movements as much. Orlando didn’t play a great defensive game.
But in the critical moments the nets only missed shots. In the truest sense of the word it happened. Joe Harris has shown several candid looks while the game was still in balance. Kyrie Irving and James Harden also missed outside attempts. Brooklyn only made 10 out of 37 3-pointers in the game. That was enough to give Orlando a path to victory. The nets will be upset with their defensive efforts, but most of the time they will shrug their shoulders and say that they have been missing from the outside.
The magic is now 14-27, 14th in the Eastern Conference. They follow the Indiana Pacers by 4.5 games for last place in the play-in tournament. The Orlando Magic are back in action on Sunday against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.
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