Denton's Dish: Magic vs. Thunder (3/1/12)
By John Denton
March 1, 2012
ORLANDO – Kevin Durant, who won the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award just four days earlier in Orlando, put another spectacular shooting display Thursday night inside the Amway Center.
And because the Orlando Magic were helpless to stop the league’s leading candidate for the regular-season MVP award, they were left to ponder what might have been on a night when they led by as many as 14 points in the second half.
When Durant scored 18 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter it allowed Oklahoma City to surge past a Magic team that had ruled the game most of Thursday night. The Magic had a desperation shot to tie at the end of the 105-102 loss to the Thunder, but for the most part they were disappointed by a defensive effort in the third quarter where they put up little resistance.
``They are a hard team to stop, but our fourth quarter defense was pathetic,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``I give them credit for what they did and they are hard to stop, but it shouldn’t be every possession that they are getting to the rim on pick-and-roll. We didn’t stop the ball one time. … They’re great, but we didn’t defend well enough in the fourth quarter to deserve to win that game.’’
Up 11 points early in the fourth quarter, the Magic (23-14) seemed to be on the verge of notching another solid victory against one of the elite teams in the NBA. Orlando has already whipped the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers this season, but couldn’t finish off Oklahoma City (29-7) because of more offensive fireworks from Durant.
Four days after pouring in 36 points in the NBA All-Star Game, Durant made five 3-pointers, all nine of his free throws and an off-balanced jumper off one foot with 52 seconds remaining that crushed the Magic.
Said Durant of the one-footed shot: ``That was a prayer. God was on my side on that one. I made a decent shot.’’
Durant’s big night was supported by 29 points and 10 assists from point guard Russell Westbrook. Orlando’s Dwight Howard (33 points, nine rebounds) and Jameer Nelson (15 points and nine assists) played well throughout, but the Magic simply couldn’t stop a Thunder team that made 10 of 15 shots and 12 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter.
``Durant is one of the three or four best basketball players in the league and Westbrook is in the top 10, and when those guys get it going they are tough to stop,’’ said Magic guard Jason Richardson, whose 30-foot heave at the buzzer was off the mark. ``Westbrook carried them most of the game and then Durant took over. And then (Durant) makes that shot off one leg when (Hedo Turkoglu) was playing excellent defense. It’s just hard to guard a guy with an 8-foot wingspan.’’
The Magic, winners Wednesday in Washington, will get a much-needed day off on Friday before hosting the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. Orlando has already beaten Milwaukee three times this season – each time by rallying in the fourth quarter to wipe out deficits.
Because of the preparations for the NBA All-Star Game, the Magic were playing their first home game on Thursday since Feb. 17. And Saturday’s home game will be the last for eight days as the Magic again hit the road for away games against Toronto (Monday), Charlotte (Tuesday) and Chicago (Thursday) next week.
Here is a look at some of the key moments from Thursday’s nationally televised game from the Amway Center:
- Facing a old nemesis in Kendrick Perkins, Howard was dominant most of the night on the low block. He made 14 of 20 shots and burned the Thunder with hook shots, putbacks and alley-oop dunks throughout the game.
But Howard could take little satisfaction from the big offensive night because of the Magic getting outplayed in the fourth quarter.
``Our defense coming down the stretch wasn’t where it needed to be and on the offensive end we didn’t execute,’’ Howard said. ``But it’s a good lesson for us to learn from to know what we need to do down the stretch.’’
- Howard and Durant obviously were the big stars coming into the game, but Westbrook and Nelson dominated most of the action in the first half in a battle of point guards.
Westbrook was his usual aggressive self in the early going, getting up 12 shots and six free throw attempts. He repeatedly rubbed Nelson off screens to get into the lane where he scored 17 points and handed out five assists in the first 24 minutes.
Not to be outdone, Nelson had one of his best stretches of basketball of the season in the first half. He scored nine points, drilled a 3-pointer, converted a steal into a breakaway layup and handed out four assists in the first half alone.
``My thing is that I have to be in attack mode. I can pick and choose when I’m shooting the ball, but I have to stay aggressive,’’ said Nelson, who played the second half on a sprained ankle. ``If I’m passive out there we’re not as good a team. As of late I’ve been playing with more energy. Right now, I’m just focusing on playing hard and not worrying about making or missing shots.’’
- Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis played well at times in the first half, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds. But the ever-emotional Davis continues to get into it with fans when he struggles with his shot.
When Davis came up well short on a 15-foot jumper, there were murmurs of boos from the crowd. Not to the level of boo birds that filled the air earlier this season when Davis endured a particularly bad shooting night, but they were there to the point that Davis gestured to the crowd for them to pick up the noise.
Seconds later, when Davis converted a nifty reverse layup in traffic, Davis cupped his hand to his ear as if to be listening for the boos that never came. Following another airball on a fade-away post move in the third quarter, Davis again motioned to the crowd after more boos.
Davis, who left Boston for Orlando and a four-year, $26 million contract prior to the season, entered Thursday’s game shooting just 38.5 percent from the floor. He missed seven of his eight shots in Thursday’s game.
- With Quentin Richardson (strained Achilles tendon) still out, Magic rookie DeAndre Liggins played 3 minutes in the first half.
Liggins, a second-round draft pick out of Kentucky, is having to get creative with the adjustment to the NBA because of the lack of practice time in the condensed season. Liggins showed up at the Amway Center an hour early on Thursday to watch film with assistant coach Bob Beyer.
Van Gundy feels that Liggins, who has added 18 pounds to his muscular frame since training camp, can be an elite defender in time, but he still struggles with rotations when he is guarding off the ball.
- Much is made of Howard’s barking at the officials, but Oklahoma City’s Perkins is actually the NBA’s leader in technical fouls with a whopping 12 so far. By comparison, Howard has just seven technical fouls after two were rescinded earlier in the season.
Perkins could be facing multiple suspensions the rest of the season based on his rocky track record with the referees. A 13th technical foul will result in a one-game suspension. He will then be suspended a game for every other technical foul after No. 13.
- Clearly intent of blocking out the distractions of the swirling trade rumors, Howard said after the game that he didn’t get a chance during the All-Star Weekend to talk to Magic officials about his future with the team.
Howard and Magic CEO Alex Martins talked Sunday about the distinct buzz in the air in Orlando during the all-star festivities, but they didn’t discuss the franchise center’s desire to be traded or remain in Orlando. That conversation could come as soon as today what with the NBA’s trade deadline approaching in two weeks.
Howard said he continues to be focused on helping this Magic team win, and said after Thursday’s loss that he likes the position that Orlando is in with 29 games remaining.
``We’re still the (fourth)-best team in the East, (sixth)-best record overall. And we still haven’t played our best brand of basketball,’’ Howard said. ``A lot of teams are rolling right now and (the Thunder) are one of them. But we want to get hot at the right time, and that’s going into the playoffs and that’s when it really matters. The team that wins the championship is the hottest toward the end of the season, going into the playoffs. You don’t want to hit your peak to early. And right now we’re cleaning up a few things.’’
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org
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