Nobody the last few weeks has been able to cool off the Brooklyn Nets, even with Kevin Durant out of action. The latest victim of Brooklyn’s electrifying offensive attack was the Orlando Magic, who were unable to tame James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Nets in a 129-92 loss on Thursday at Barclays Center.
Nikola Vucevic, named an NBA All-Star for the second time in his career earlier this week, did his best to keep the Magic competitive early on. The 7-footer scored 22 of his 28 points in the first half. He also had 12 rebounds in the contest for his 23rd double-double of the year, third most in the league.
One of the main questions on the Nets after they acquired Harden in that blockbuster January trade from the Houston Rockets was whether Harden and Irving, two ball-dominant guards in the past, would mesh well together. That has gone, so far at least, as well as anyone could have possibly predicted. Harden leads the league in assists and Irving is the only player this season shooting 50 percent-plus from the field, 40 percent-plus from 3-point range and 90 percent-plus from the free throw line among those who have appeared in at least 20 games.
Cole Anthony (non-displaced fracture, right rib), Aaron Gordon (left ankle sprain), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) were all out. Karim Mane (G League/two-way) is not with the team. For the Nets, Durant (strained left hamstring), Jeff Green (right shoulder contusion), Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL) and Reggie Perry (G League/two-way) were out.
The second quarter is when the Nets, now winners of eight straight, took full control. They outscored the Magic by 22 that period, with Harden making five of his six shots during those 12 minutes and Irving two of his three. Vucevic was cooking that quarter, going 5-of-7, but nobody else on the Magic was. The rest of the team shot 3-of-13 from the field.
Normally a team that takes care of the ball, the Magic coughed it up 18 times, which led to 24 Nets points. Many of the 25 fast break points Brooklyn scored came from Orlando errors. Entering Thursday’s action, Orlando ranked sixth in fewest turnovers per game. The Magic also had a rough time defending the 3-point line. Brooklyn buried 20 threes.
Quote of the Night
“The biggest problem was obviously the turnovers. These live-ball turnovers are crushing our defense…I just had a meeting with the analytics people the other day looking at our transition defense, and it’s actually not our transition defense, it’s our live-ball turnovers…We are not that team. We can’t give possessions away now. We have no room for error. When they say you have little room for error, we have less than that. We can’t beat ourselves and we can’t turn the ball over and that’s where it started.” – Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford
The Magic return home to play the Utah Jazz at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, the first of three straight games at Amway Center before the All-Star break. The Jazz, led by All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, are an NBA-best 26-6. They have only lost two games since Jan. 7. Their most recent victory was against the L.A. Lakers, who the Jazz held to just 89 points. LeBron James only scored 19.