Denton: Magic's Rally Falls Short in Memphis

Jameer Nelson
MEMPHIS – The West Tennessee area braced for a nasty rain-snow-and-ice mix to blanket the region on Monday night and temperatures were expected to dip into the low 20s.

Unfortunately for the Orlando Magic, it was as if someone flung open the doors to the FedEx Forum on Monday and let the bitterly cold conditions inside considering their frigid shooting most of the game.

Just a night after shooting 34.4 percent in a frustrating loss in Houston, Orlando suffered through another poor shooting performance in frosty Memphis. The Magic slogged through a 30-point first half, made an impressive push in the second half, but slipped again late in a 94-85 loss to the Grizzlies.

Orlando (6-15) lost its sixth consecutive game and for a fifth time in a row on this six-game, 12-day road trip. The Magic fell again because they shot less than 30 percent much of the first half, went through another cold stretch late in the fourth and finished up shooting just 40 percent.

``A lot of wrongs can be righted if the ball just goes in the basket. It’s really that simple sometimes,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``It’s the NBA and when the ball goes in the basket you help yourself on both ends of the floor.’’

Gamely fighting back late in the game for a second straight night, the Magic did get within 87-83 of the Grizzlies (10-10) with 2 minutes to play when veteran point guard Jameer Nelson had an acrobatic three-point play and Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis converted a tough put-back basket in traffic.

But Orlando would get no closer as Zach Randolph scored on the next two possessions to turn back the rally. Randolph, one of just two healthy starters for the Grizzlies, finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

Power forward Andrew Nicholson scored 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter to get the Magic back to within striking distance in the second half. He added 11 rebounds and two 3-pointers.

``I was just trying to stay aggressive. Coach (Vaughn) called a couple of plays for me and the shots were going down,’’ said Nicholson, one of two Magic players to make more than half of their shots. ``We’re having a hard time (scoring) right now, but offense is fickle sometimes. One night it will be there and one night it won’t. So we have to rely on defense to be our constant now.’’

Nelson struggled through a poor shooting night, but still gave the Magic 19 points and five assists. Arron Afflalo, Orlando’s most efficient and consistent offensive player all season, struggled against the long-armed defense of Tayshaun Prince and scored 17 points on five of 16 shooting.

Davis, who left the game briefly in the second quarter with leg pain, added 16 points and nine rebounds. Davis, a team captain, was upbeat after the loss and talked of the Magic team needing to stay together and keep believing that they can get back on the winning track.

``We just have to keep preaching about staying together no matter what happens,’’ said Davis, who is still working his way back into form following a 10-month layoff from a fractured foot.

``It’s a long season. Good thing these bumps are coming early in terms of tough losses and guys being injured. If we can just get everybody healthy and learning, we’ll be fine. The more guys stay together, the better we can overcome these obstacles.’’

The longest road trip in Magic history – six games spread over all or part of 12 days – will finally come to a conclusion when they face the Bobcats in Charlotte on Wednesday. The Bobcats will have somewhat of an Orlando feel what with them hiring former Magic coaches Steve Clifford (head coach), Patrick Ewing (associate head coach), Bob Beyer (assistant coach) and Mark Price (assistant coach) over the summer. Even, the equipment manager, Jason Rivera, last worked for the Magic before being hired by the Bobcats.

Orlando was again without starters Nikola Vucevic (sprained ankle) and Tobias Harris (high ankle sprain). Harris has played just one game all season, while Vucevic has missed the past four games after accidentally stepping on a courtside cameraman’s foot Monday in Washington, D.C.

The Grizzlies were in a similar situation as the Magic with just nine players available on Monday. Memphis was without four primary rotation players with Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Quincy Pondexter and Ed Davis out injured.

Down 51-30 at the half, the Magic played with some fire in the third period and got more good looks offensively. Nicholson played well on the inside and outside, hitting five of six shots and two 3-pointers for 13 third-quarter points.

The Magic hit 11 of 20 shots in the third quarter and pulled within 70-60 in the final seconds of the quarter. But the Magic caught a bad break when rookie Jamaal Franklin drilled a buzzer-beating corner 3-pointer as he fell out of bounds. The shot put Memphis back up 73-60 and took some starch out of the Magic’s push.

``We changed schemes so that guys were able to switch a little bit and we changed some things in the post,’’ Vaughn said of the third-quarter push by the Magic. ``We tried to make it happen by fighting and clawing and trying to make something good happen in our favor.’’

With their shooting woes continuing again Monday night, Orlando fell into a disheartening 51-30 hole in the first half. The Magic made just 12 of 36 shots (33.3 percent) in the first two quarters and was unable to find much production.

Orlando received a scare in the second quarter when Davis made a move under the basket and went down on the court for several minutes. Favoring his left leg, Davis limped to the locker room with a hamstring strain. Davis, who had eight first-half points, returned and played the final 2 minutes of the first half.

Afflalo and Nelson had several shots rim out in the first half and they were a combined four of 14 from the floor in the first half. Afflalo, Orlando’s leading scorer all season, missed his first four shots and didn’t have his first field goal until the game was some 18 minutes old. Meanwhile, Nelson missed five of his six tries in the early going.

``I don’t even have any words anymore. It’s at the point where you can’t even be mad,’’ Afflalo said of the Magic’s offensive struggles and their six-game losing streak. ``I’ll never get used to losing. But we’ll move on to the next game. … Honestly, I don’t pay attention to much right now other than the scoreboard. Maybe that’s a problem, but I don’t pay attention to (offensive struggles).’’

The Magic were once again undone early in the night by a one-sided stretch in the game. A night after yielding 17 straight first-quarter points to Houston, Orlando went the first 5 minutes, 20 seconds of the second quarter without scoring, missing all seven of their shots. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies ripped off 14 straight points to build a lead as large as 21 points.

Ever the optimist, Vaughn chose to focus on the Magic’s impressive second-half comeback on Monday and not just another defeat. He vowed that Orlando will stay strong through the rough patch and eventually get back to playing winning basketball again.

``Overall, it’s going to test your resolve and your resistance to giving in, but we’ve got a group in the locker room that I’m counting on to not give in and they showed that tonight,’’ Vaughn said. ``There’s always a time in the game when you can give in or choose to rally around each other and try to fight. We put a group out there that tried to do that and they gave us a chance to win.’’