By John Denton
November 13, 2012
ORLANDO – Every bit the equal of the NBA’s lone undefeated team for some 40 minutes of Tuesday night, the Orlando Magic inexplicably stumbled down the stretch and cost themselves a chance at toppling the New York Knicks.
The Magic led by four points at the half and briefly took a lead in the fourth quarter on the strength of rookies Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, but things all fell apart down the stretch when the offense stalled and the turnovers piled up.
When Orlando went through a rough stretch where it missed 10 of 12 shots and turned the ball over seven times, it ruined an energetic and hustling effort and led to a 99-89 New York victory before a sellout crowd of 18,846 at the Amway Center.
The frustrating result left the Magic (2-5) with a five-game losing streak and the Knicks moved to 5-0 for the first time since the 1993-94 season. Magic forward Arron Afflalo was so shaken by an uncharacteristically subpar effort that he remained in his uniform and at his locker some 30 minutes after the game. And co-captain Glen Davis continued to talk about the Magic’s potential as a team despite their repeated late-game failures.
``As one of the main players … I’ve just got to be better and take advantage of team play more and not have so many careless turnovers as I had today,’’ said Afflalo, referring to his four of 14 shooting and seven turnovers. ``The defensive intensity from this point forward has to go to another level.’’
J.J. Redick led the Magic with 18 points, but the player who undoubtedly excited fans the most was Maurice Harkless. The rookie small forward had 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots – with three of them coming against boyhood idol and NBA leading scorer Carmelo Anthony.
``I think I played pretty good, but we lost so it doesn’t really matter,’’ said Harkless, 19. ``It’s all about the team. I wish I would have played more in the end because I thought I was doing a pretty good job on Carmelo. I don’t know, they just played harder than us at the end.’’
Afflalo scored 13 points, while Nikola Vucevic (10 rebounds) and E’Twaun Moore each chipped in 12 points. Davis made all five of his shots and had 10 points and six rebounds, but he faulted his own aggressiveness after the game.
``We didn’t finish the ball game, point blank,’’ Davis said. ``We’re a young team and we’re learning, but at the same time that shouldn’t be an excuse. We know what we need to do to win.
``We can’t use being young as an excuse and we’ve got to learn now,’’ Davis continued. ``If we don’t we’re going to look up and be 2-10. I’m not used to that and I’ve never played on a 2-10 team in my life. So we have to go harder in preparation and it starts with me. … We’re a good team and we’re in ball games against good teams. We can play this game. We know the things we need to know and this is going to make us better. But I don’t want to lose.’’
Anthony scored 25 points, including five straight on a post move and a 3-pointer during a New York run that sealed the game. Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith added 21 apiece for a New York team that shot 48.8 percent and made nine 3-pointers.
With the Magic leading 80-79, the Knicks went on a 12-2 run that totally turned the game around. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was dismayed by the fourth-quarter struggles, but encouraged by the fight of his team.
``They’re a good ball club and they were able to capitalize on our turnovers and make shots,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``The fourth quarter is a time when you really have to hone in on our schemes. We can’t afford to make mistakes. But for me at the end of the game I’m pretty proud of our guys and their effort. That’s a good (New York) ballclub at both ends of the floor and we made them earn a win tonight.’’
The game was stopped for 10 minutes between the first and second quarters when a member of the Magic Stunt Team was dropped on an attempted flip and landed hard on the back of her neck. Jamie Woode, a former UCF cheerleader, was placed on a stretcher and outfitted with a neck brace by paramedics after falling hard to the floor. She waved both arms to the crowd as she was wheeled off the court, eliciting a loud cheer.
Woode was transferred to Orlando Regional Medical Center where, according to paramedics, she was breathing on her own and moving her extremities. Said Vaughn: ``Our thoughts and prayers should be acknowledged for the young lady who fell. I hope and pray that she’s OK. That’s real life.’’
The Magic don’t play again until Friday when they start a three-game roadtrip. Orlando plays the Pistons (Friday), Raptors (Sunday afternoon) and Hawks (Monday) before returning home to face Detroit on Nov. 21.
Harkless had one of the Magic’s best defensive sequences of the season near the end of the third-quarter when he repeatedly stone-walled Anthony. Seconds after blocking an Anthony shot out of bounds, he blocked him again at the rim, stripped the ball out of his hands and then contested Anthony into a missed shot. The crowd at the Amway Center showed its approval by roaring with noise.
And when Harkless again stuffed an Anthony drive early in the fourth quarter, it gave him four blocks for the game. Three of those four blocked shots came against Anthony, a player he idolized last year while playing collegiately at St. John’s.
``It’s a good feeling no matter who it is against,’’ Harkless said. ``Carmelo actually talked to me the night I got drafted and he gave me a few words of advice. And then I’m out there guarding him and he’s one of the ones I looked up to. So for me, it just gave me extra fuel to try and stop him.’’
The Magic played with great energy and execution early in the game to keep pace with the Knicks, which entered second in the NBA in scoring at 104.5 points per game. After falling behind by as much as 10 points in the first half, Orlando used a 15-4 spurt to move back into the lead.
Orlando got a tremendous lift in the first half from Harkless and Andrew Nicholson. Harkless, a Queens native who grew up rooting for the Knicks, had his best stretch in a Magic uniform in the first half. Not only did he have 10 points, six rebounds and a blocked shot in the first half, but he also had a dazzling tip-in off a missed free throw and a tough contest on an Anthony post-up near the end of the second quarter.
Vaughn didn’t turn to Nicholson until the final 3:27 of the first half, and the rookie power forward produced right away. He posted up long-time defensive standout Rasheed Wallace for a basket just seconds after checking into the game and later scored over J.R. Smith on the low block.
``I loved his pace running the floor, of wanting to be out on the court, compete, rebound and defend aggressively around the basket,’’ Vaughn said of the rookie.
``And I thought Andrew was great in his ability to be confident on the floor playing against some pretty skilled and veteran guys. We had some good contributions across the board. So there were some victories for sure on our end in my eyes.’’
Anthony gave the Magic fits in the first half, shooting over the shorter Afflalo in the post and driving by Josh McRoberts and Moore from the wings. Anthony had 16 points in the first two quarters and both of his assists led to 3-point baskets. Anthony did get whistled for a technical foul in the second quarter for disputing a whistle when a teammate was called for a foul.
In the end, the Magic played one of their best games of the season, but the fourth-quarter struggles overshadowed a solid effort. That has to change, Afflalo said.
``You have to want to win more, it’s as simple as that,’’ Afflalo said. ``There’s not one man on this team that is going to do this alone, so we pretty much have to want it more. It’s not about offensive schemes or defensive execution and it’s not about talent. You just have to want it more.’’
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