Denton: Magic at Knicks Analysis (12/6/13)

By John Denton
Dec. 6, 2013

NEW YORK – The Orlando Magic were coming off the worst kind of gnawing loss, one in which they played their hearts out over 58 minutes, did so much right time and again and still ended up one point short on Tuesday in Philadelphia.

So prior to Friday’s game, the Magic coaching staff turned to inspirational words from the late Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who taught so many around globe about the merits of peace and resiliency.

One of Mandela’s most famous quotes – ``the greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall’’ -- was scrawled across a dry-erase board in the Magic locker room on Friday night in an attempt to inspire an Orlando team still struggling to find its way.

Mandela’s words about pushing through failures could come into good use over the next couple of days after the Magic saw a promising start wither away under a hail of New York 3-point shots Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The night eventually devolved into an unsightly 121-83 Magic loss to the Knicks – a defeat that will once again test the Magic’s ability to get up off the mat following a frustrating night.

``It’s all a learning process for this team. It’s frustrating, but this is the game of basketball and this is how it’s going to be sometimes,’’ Magic rookie Victor Oladipo said. ``We just have to learn from nights this.’’

Orlando (6-13) actually led by three points after the first quarter, but it was outscored 31-23 in the second quarter and 30-15 in the third period by a Knicks team that blew out to a lead as big as 40 points. And things just proceeded to get worse as the night wore on as New York outscored the Magic 32-14 in a forgettable fourth quarter.

``Boy, that seems so long ago, that first quarter,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said minutes after the game. ``We stretched our guys in the first quarter to try to get off to a decent start. And we got off to a decent start. But they played extremely well. I think the results of their game in Brooklyn (on Thursday) carried over to this game and they shot the ball extremely well.’’

The Knicks (5-13) made a staggering 17 of 34 3-pointers a night after hitting 16 3-pointers in a similar rout of the Brooklyn Nets.

New York broke a seven-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden. The 121 points allowed by the Magic were the most all season, topping the 120 allowed in losses in Minnesota and Boston. Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points, while J.R. Smith (17 points) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (15 points) each hit five 3-point shots.

Arron Afflalo, who had a career-best 43 points on Tuesday in Philadelphia, scored 20 points on Friday, but it was hardly enough for the Magic to keep pace. Oladipo, who had the first triple-double of his career on Tuesday, finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and two assists on Friday. The Magic were without starting center Nikola Vucevic for a second consecutive game because of a sprained ankle. Vucevic rolled his ankle on Monday in Washington, D.C., when he accidentally stepped on the foot of a courtside cameraman. Vucevic, who ranks fifth in the NBA in rebounding, tested the ankle in a pregame workout, but couldn’t play because of recurring pain.

With Vucevic out, even the smallish Knicks outrebounded the Magic 45-31. Vucevic’s absence, combined with Tobias Harris still being out with a high ankle sprain, means the Magic have yet to play a game this season as a whole unit.

``We’ve just got to continue to get guys back healthy,’’ Oladipo said. ``It just seems like we never have our whole team. Nik didn’t play today and Tobias didn’t play. We just have to get healthy and continue to build chemistry.’’

Orlando did get veteran point guard Jameer Nelson back Friday night. Nelson missed the previous 3½ games with a sprain to his left foot. The Magic have been much better offensively this season with Nelson on the floor to organize the team and to free up Oladipo from having to play the point.

``The foot felt fine and I felt normal out there, but I just thought I could have been more aggressive,’’ said Nelson, who had 13 points and nine assists in 30 minutes. ``We made some mistakes defensively. We saw them make 16 (3-pointers) on (Thursday) so we knew what they were capable of doing. We just have to have more attention to detail with matchups and personnel. We could have made it a little tougher on them knowing what was in the game and was the help guy. But we’ve got to bounce back from this.’’

Magic power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis was back in New York where he fractured his left foot last Jan. 30. Davis needed two surgeries and 10 months of inactivity to get over the injury. The 6-foot-9 power forward was coming off a spectacular 33-point effort in Philadelphia on Tuesday. On each side of the career-best night, Davis had poor shooting nights. He made just one of eight shots on Monday in Washington, D.C. And on Friday, he missed six of seven shots and ended up with just four points and nine rebounds.

``They made it real tough for me and I couldn’t get any clean looks tonight,’’ said Davis, who injured his left wrist late in the first half during a collision with Oladipo. ``I’ve got to watch this game and adjust and be ready to go in Houston.’’

In the midst of the longest road trip in the 25-year history of the franchise, the Magic will be in Houston on Sunday to face Dwight Howard and the Rockets. After playing in Memphis on Monday, Orlando finally concludes the six-game, 12-day trip in Charlotte on Wednesday.

The Magic played exceptionally well on the offensive end in the first half, but they still trailed 59-54 at the intermission because of troubles slowing down the Knicks from beyond the 3-point line. Four different Knicks hit two 3-pointers in the first half. New York hit six of its first seven 3-point tries in the second quarter and drilled 10 in the first half.

Afflalo tried to pick up where he left off on Tuesday night in Philadelphia, scoring 16 first-half point. He buried two 3-pointers and had a dazzling spin move in the lane after blowing past Tim Hardaway Jr.

``I just feel so bad for Arron because he plays so well every game,’’ Davis said of Afflalo. ``Me being a leader on this team, I’ve got to help him. I can’t just have one game and be up-and-down, up-and-down. He needs some help. I’m the guy who is supposed to help him on both sides of the ball. I’m a veteran and I can do it. I’ve just got to get back in the swing of things. We just have to play our ball.’’

Free from having to run the offense with Nelson back, Oladipo did a little bit of everything in the first half. He scored 11 points, but his two most spectacular plays came on blocked shots in the lane. He even stuffed an Anthony dunk attempt at the rim in the first quarter.

Orlando led 31-28 after one period, but the lineup of Ronnie Price, E’Twaun Moore, Solomon Jones, Jason Maxell and Maurice Harkless coughed up the lead in the second period. Of New York’s first seven baskets of the second quarter, six were 3-point field goals. New York’s first lead came at the 9:29 mark of the second quarter on a J.R. Smith 3-pointer.

Nelson said it is during times like this – his Magic have lost four straight and are in one of the toughest stretches of the season schedule-wise – when he has to be extra vocal to the young players on the roster to make sure they keep the faith. Nelson said the key to Orlando getting out of its rut is finding ways to improve both individually and collectively.

``It’s a long process here and a long season. We have a lot of games and a lot of practices ahead of us and a lot of time together to get better,’’ Nelson said. ``We just have to focus on that. The attention to detail has to be a lot better in terms of us knowing situations and individual personnel.’’

Follow John Denton on Twitter here