Cohen Courtside: Magic vs. Thunder (3/1/12)

By Josh Cohen
March 1, 2012

In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.


ORLANDO -- For about 42 minutes of Thursday night at Amway Center, we witnessed one of the Orlando Magic’s most complete and most balanced performances of the season.

For the other six minutes, well – all we could do was watch Kevin Durant deliver another heroic effort for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It didn’t matter how many defenders swarmed Durant, who just four days ago was here in Orlando raising the MVP trophy after the NBA All-Star Game.

Durant could have had a blindfold covering his eyes or an entire ant farm invading his body. It had no impact in those final few minutes when KD hit shot-after-shot-after-shot to silence the crowd in Orlando and send the Magic home with a heartbreaking defeat.

It was somewhat parallel to a couple of the Magic’s other losses at home this season.

There was the demoralizing defeat to the Clippers when familiar foes Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler left Magic fans shaking their heads in frustration.

There was the exasperating loss to the Hawks when proverbial adversaries like Josh Smith and Joe Johnson crushed our Magic hearts.

This time around, however, Orlando was in the middle of impressing a national television audience with a all-around sensational effort.

From Dwight Howard (33 points, nine rebounds) controlling the paint to Jameer Nelson (15 points, nine assists) attacking the paint to some outstanding ball movement to some unrelenting team defensive hustle; the Magic delivered their ‘A’ game to, for at least the time being, give the critics more to talk about other than trade speculation.

But then suddenly, a beast was awoken and Durant (38 points) along with Russell Westbrook (29 points) disallowed the Magic from snapping the Thunder’s winning streak, which extended to seven games.

"That's one of the best, if not the best, offensive duo in the NBA," Ryan Anderson said about Durant and Westbrook. "They're aggressive to the glass and they get foul calls, and they really run to get buckets."

It got quite fascinating in the final 20 seconds after Jason Richardson and Anderson each connected on 3-pointers to keep Orlando alive. After a pair of missed free throws by OKC, J-Rich’s last-second heave at the buzzer would have sent the game to OT but it sailed too long.

It’s somewhat difficult to assess the Magic after Thursday’s loss.

On one hand, you had to be enthralled with Orlando’s precision, inspiration and, amid all the outside distractions regarding trade rumors, tremendous focus before the Thunder’s startling comeback.

On the other hand, you have to wonder if the Magic’s lack of a reliable scorer in the late stages of a close game is becoming too much of a concern.

Orlando depends on swift ball movement and perfect execution in the pick-and-roll to formulate points. But when opponents tighten up defensively, like the Thunder did in those final few minutes, the Magic tend to force up difficult shots.

It’s a problem Stan Van Gundy and his coaching staff will continue to try and address as the season marches forward. We know Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu have proven in the past to be clutch scorers when asked to be. We know Howard has suggested he wants the ball late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

As trade rumors continue to encircle the franchise, it’s imperative for the Magic to not get distressed about what may or may not happen and instead, concentrate on improving in this very apparent weakness.

Who would you want to take a shot with the game on the line?
Who would you want to take a shot with the game on the line?
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