Denton: Magic Hope to Beat One of League's Best Tonight

By John Denton
March 22, 2013

ORLANDO – Clearly, the Orlando Magic have the undivided attention of the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder after what transpired a week ago.

When the two teams met in Oklahoma City a week ago, the Thunder surged to a 27-point lead late in the second quarter only to see the Magic rally back within four points of the lead on two different occasions late in the fourth quarter. Orlando missed three shots that could have gotten it even closer of a Thunder team that clearly dropped its guard in the second half.

OKC survived 117-104, but not without the Magic making a big impression on them. Superstar forward Kevin Durant said a second-half letdown won’t happen again, while also complimenting the grit and fight of the Magic’s young roster.

``Orlando just plays so hard and they got back into that game last week against us,’’ Durant said Friday morning. ``They will have their crowd behind them tonight, so we’ll have to bring the energy.’’

The Magic (18-51) are back home following a winless four-game, seven-day road trip. That trip started in OKC last week when the Magic almost pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history. Orlando got big nights from Jameer Nelson (26 points), Nikola Vucevic (21 points and 14 rebounds), Arron Afflalo (20 points) and Tobias Harris (19 points) to nearly wipe out the big deficit and upset the Thunder.

The key to Orlando’s big turnaround was that it had just two turnovers in the second half, allowing it to get a handle on OKC’s dynamic transition game. When the Magic tightened up defensively and didn’t turn the ball over they were able to stay with the Thunder (50-19) step for step.

The mission now is to do it the entire game tonight. The Magic gave up a season-worst 73 points in the first half last week against OKC, but limited the Thunder in the second half to just 44 points.

``We have to come out from the start tonight the way that we did in the second half last week,’’ Nelson said. ``We did a good job of controlling the ball and not allowing them to get open shots. With what happened in that first half it was kind of mind-boggling considering the way we came back in the second half.’’

The way Orlando picked up its intensity in the second half last week also caught the attention of Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. He said his pregame speech to his team tonight will center around not letting up against a Magic team that continues to fight.

``The thing we took out of that game was that game was that they’re not going to give up. And that’s a really good trait to have with a group of young players like Orlando has,’’ Brooks said. ``They have a lot of good players who are young and are only going to get better.’’

Orlando was able to rally last week in part because they did a number on Durant in the second half. Five of the superstar’s six turnovers came in the second half as Maurice Harkless and Harris were able to frustrate him with their physical, long-armed defense.

``We have to play the way we played in the third quarter the whole game tonight,’’ Harris said. ``We were turning the ball over too much in the first half, but we limited them in the second half. We have to be able to dig down on defense.

``(Durant) is one of the best scorers in the league, so you just are trying to find ways out there to slow him down. I tried to be physical with him to see how it works,’’ Harris continued. ``I just tried to give him my best effort and I’ll do that again tonight.’’

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