New Jersey has six wins and is well on its way to breaking the NBA record for fewest wins in a season. It is not surprising then to know how easily Orlando won its fourth straight game -- not quite dominating but not quite sweating for a 97-87 win at Izod Center on Friday night.
The Magic took control with a 32-18 first quarter and were never really threatened. The lead throughout the game bounced between 15 and 10 after the Nets cut the lead to seven at the half.
Both offenses were inefficient and Orlando's defense, at least, seemed a bit lazy at times. The team turned it up enough to keep New Jersey at bay while not outright running away with things.
Dwight Howard was a big difference, stabilizing the Magic any time the Nets made a run. He scored only 11 points, but grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked four shots. He also had four assists and a +14 plus/minus rating.
Orlando's struggles offensively at least started with its inability to convert off of double teams on Howard. New Jersey elected to double Howard hard and hope Orlando did not make jumpers or rotate to chase them off the 3-point line. Howard had four assists and plenty of opportunities for more assists and more "hockey" assists. The shots were just not falling at a high enough rate for the Magic to make the score look how much they dominated.
Orlando shot just 44 percent and a pretty solid 13 for 31 from beyond the arc (42 percent). But the 31 3-pointers should also tell you that the Magic were settling for jumpers with Howard blanketed in the post.
Again, enough shots fell to ensure a victory.
Rashard Lewis had a strange stat line, shooting three for 14 but scoring nine points and garnering a +16 plus/minus (showing both how valuable Lewis might be on defense and how limited plus/minus is as a statistic). Vince Carter at times looked like he was getting ready to take over in the third quarter and propel Orlando to a 20-point lead but he never really did. Carter played well for scoring 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting.
It was that kind of game. Lewis struggled but had his moments. Carter had his moments but would sometimes get stuck with the ball in bad situations (he still shot two for three from beyond the arc).
Jameer Nelson picked his points to attack in scoring 15 points and dishing out eight assists. And Matt Barnes played well scoring 16 points, most in the first quarter.
It is hard to figure out why the Magic never went for the kill and put the game firmly out of reach. But maybe the Nets are not good enough for them to need to do that. This game was never in doubt even as New Jersey made some nice athletic plays behind Devin Harris and Terrence Williams to make things somewhat interesting. But even then, you could tell it was too little too late and the Magic scored enough to make it uninteresting.
Orlando did a good job distributing the ball with 24 assists on 34 field goals. But had 16 turnovers. The Magic gave up 40 percent shooting. But gave up 20 free throw attempts, which the Nets hit on 19.
It was the kind of game that for every good, there was a bad that nearly canceled it out. New Jersey is not good enough (plain and simple) to have taken advantage of all that. That is an unfortunate mindset for Orlando with the Lakers coming to town Sunday.