By John Denton
April 7, 2013
``We felt like we were playing some pretty good basketball out there, but they made their run and came back and we just didn’t make enough plays donw near the end of the game,’’ Magic forward Tobias Harris said. ``We’ve just got to learn from this and be better. We have to go into the next game knowing that we have to value every possession.’’
Added Vaughn: ``That (fourth-quarter free throws) is what the game boiled down to and we’ll continue to learn. What I do love is Kyle (O’Quinn) tried to step in and take a charge and the guy scored. That’s OK. But you have to get yourself in a position where you don’t have to foul. That’s where we’ll continue to grow as a team.’’
Despite Sunday’s loss, Magic center Nikola Vucevic had the third 20-point, 20-rebound game of his career with 21 points and 21 boards. Harris also snapped out of a four-game shooting slump with 26 points on 11 of 19 shooting.
Beno Udrih, who played through a sprained ankle, had 13 points and six assists. But the Magic could not overcome one of 13 shooting from 3-point range, including an E’Twaun Moore missed three with 14 seconds to play. Orlando also made a dismal 37.8 percent of its shots. Rookie Doron Lamb made the Magic’s only shot from beyond the arc all night.
``It’s really tough, man. We have to learn how to close out game and play the whole game,’’ said Magic rookie Maurice Harkless, who played through knee pain and had seven points and four rebounds. ``It’s a long game and we’re a young team and eventually we’re going to learn how to close these out.’’
Alonzo Gee had 19 points, while Tristan Thompson added 15 points and 166 rebounds. Kyrie Irving had only nine points, but had 10 assists. Harris said the Magic have to be tougher in the key situations and defend without fouling as they did down the stretch on Sunday night.
``Obviously we’ve got get stops toward the end of the game and be smarter on the offensive end,’’ Harris said. ``We got some clean looks, but they didn’t fall for us. And we have to know that we can’t foul at the end like that and just play our defense.’’
The Magic ended their longest road trip of the season on Sunday and up next are three home games: Wednesday against J.J. Redick and the Milwaukee Bucks, Saturday versus the Boston Celtics and Monday against the Chicago Bulls. The Magic close the regular season on April 17 in Miami.
Orlando hung tough in the third period, even extending its lead to as much as eight during one points in the third quarter. Harris built off his stellar first half to make his first four shots of the third quarter. He twice converted finger roll layups a la his mentor, Hall of Famer George Gervin.
When Andrew Nicholson converted a dunk late in the third quarter, it gave the Magic a 66-58 lead. It also elicited a loud cheer from the two dozen blue-and-black clad Nicholson fans that made the two-hour drive from St. Bonaventure, New York to Cleveland for the game.
Vaughn was eager to gauge the mental toughness of his team considering that it was playing in the final game of the longest road trip of the season (10 days). And the Magic responded with plenty of fight early in the game by racing to a 48-44 halftime lead.
``We had great, great focus at the beginning of the game and I give our guys a lot of credit for that,’’ Vaughn said. ``We came out with a great focus and executed on both ends of the floor early on. That put us in a position to be in this game.’’
Vucevic needed a little more than a quarter to notch his 42nd double-double of the season, a number that ties him for third in the NBA along with Atlanta’s Al Horford and Memphis Zach Randolph. It’s especially impressive when considering that Vucevic still ranks that high even though he missed five games recently because of a mild concussion.
As he did on Feb. 8 when he had 25 points and 13 rebounds, Vucevic dominated Cleveland second-year center Tristan Thompson in the first half when he had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Four of his boards came on the offensive end and he used those to set up scoring opportunities.
Harris also played especially well in the first half to break out of a mini-shooting slump. Harris scored 29 and 30 points in consecutive games last week, but the forward started the first four games of this road trip by making just 21 of 71 shots (29.5 percent).
``It was definitely tough for me, especially that Chicago game (on Friday) because I had a lot of shots that I normally make,’’ Harris said. ``Nine times out of 10 the shots I took normally go in. (Saturday) was tough for me because I wanted to play (today) so badly. I wanted to get out there and redeem myself. Today I was anxious to get on the court and play. I wanted to find my rhythm and play my game.’’
Irving, who has been in and out of the lineup lately with an injured clavicle, looked disinterested at times in the first half. He made just three of 10 shots and had a questionable decision to pull up for a 3-point shot on a four-on-one fastbreak. He did have a nifty between-the-legs pass to Thompson for a fastbreak layup in the second quarter.
Harkless, who has yet to turn 20 and is one of the NBA’s youngest players, said that eventually the struggles of this season will pay off and the team will figure out a way to close out games they lead most of the night.
``It’s just experience. Half of the guys on our team have never been in a lot of the situations that we’re in right now,’’ Harkless said. ``It’s tough, but we have to learn from it and keep getting better.’’
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