Postgame Report: Magic vs. Bobcats (4/4/14)

By John Denton
April 4, 2014

CHARLOTTE – In two games against Charlotte this season, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic battered the Bobcats for 37 points and 37 rebounds. More importantly, he slowed down Al Jefferson enough for the Magic to claim two impressive victories.

Without Vucevic on Friday night because of a sore Achilles’ tendon that bothered him just minutes before tipoff, the Magic never stood a chance of winning in Charlotte or even offering up resistance to Jefferson, an All-NBA candidate this season.

When Vucevic was scratched from the game it seemed to sap the life out of a Magic team already possessing a small margin for error. With no Vucevic on the floor, Orlando got hammered early on by Jefferson, fell apart in a lopsided second quarter and lost 91-80 to a Charlotte team that has its sights set on the playoffs.

``That was tough (not having Vucevic), but if he can’t go, he can’t go,’’ Magic forward Tobias Harris said. ``Nik wants to help us night in and night out. But he wasn’t out there and we still had to play the game and play hard. We did what we could to try to win the game.’’
Just how valuable is the 7-foot Vucevic to the Magic (21-55) this season? In the 19 games that he’s missed because of ankle, concussion and Achilles’ tendon injuries, Orlando is just 2-17. The two victories were against the rebuilding Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Magic beat the Bobcats (38-38) a week earlier in Orlando behind a dominant 24-point, 23-rebound effort from Vucevic. And one of Orlando’s four road victories came back in December in Charlotte when Vucevic had 13 points and 14 boards and stuffed Jefferson to the tune of 10 points on four-of-10 shooting.

On Friday, Jefferson demolished Orlando in the first half (21 points and 11 rebounds) and finished with 29 points and 16 rebounds to strengthen his bid to make the All-NBA team. Charlotte has started a campaign for its free-agent signee from last summer in hopes that he can beat out Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert for a spot on one of the three All-NBA squads.

In the two games against Charlotte that Vucevic missed, Jefferson averaged 29.5 points and 16 rebounds on 26 of 40 shooting (65 percent).

``It was very tough (watching),’’ Vucevic said. ``It was kind of late that I was scratched. It was tough for me to not go out there and help my teammates. This year here and there I’ve had some games that I have missed with the injuries and the concussion. It’s not fun to be out, but injuries are a part of being an athlete. I’ve just got to get back to where I can play.’’

Charlotte guard Kemba Walker sealed a triple-double late in the night. He finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 35 minutes.

Orlando rookie Victor Oladipo scored 21 points, while Harris added 15 points off the bench. Jameer Nelson chipped in 11 points and seven assists. Kyle O’Quinn got off a career-most 20 shots (with five makes) and finished with 10 points and six rebounds.

Orlando still has the NBA’s worst road record at 4-35 and it has won just once away from home since the calendar flipped to 2014. The Magic need wins in their final two road games – at Brooklyn on April 13 and in Chicago on April 14 – to equal the worst road record in franchise history (6-35 in the inaugural 1989-90 season).

Embarrassed by a 21-point home loss on Wednesday against Charlotte, Orlando came into Friday hoping for a strong bounce-back performance. Instead, the Magic fell behind by as much as 21 points and lost a third straight game.

The Magic led 25-24 early in the game, but yielded a 27-5 run in the second quarter to fall into a big hole. Orlando stayed within striking distance by limiting Charlotte to 19 points in the third quarter, but it didn’t have enough firepower to come all the way back in the fourth period. They got within 76-69 on a 3-pointer by Oladipo early in the fourth quarter.

``They just started making a lot of shots and it was tough to contain them with that run that they went on,’’ said Harris, who made five of 12 shots and four of five free throws and grabbed eight rebounds. ``When a team is on that tyhpe of run and we don’t respond it’s going to just keep going and going.’’

Orlando will be back in action Saturday night at the Amway Center when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves. The two teams haven’t played since Oct. 30 when Kevin Love hit a controversial 3-pointer late in the game and the T-Wolves won it 120-115 in overtime in Orlando’s second game of the season.

The Magic managed to stay in the game for a little more than a quarter before things started to fall apart. Orlando actually led 25-24 early in the second quarter on a reverse layup by Oladipo before Charlotte launched a game-turning 27-5 run. The Magic were outscored 33-17 in the second period.

``The fact that we allowed 38 points in the second half meant that guys continued to fight and guys stepped up,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``We got some experience with guys who normally don’t get a chance to play many minutes. They had a chance to finish the game.’’