On Saturday, central Floridians had the choice to either watch the NCAA Final Four or the Orlando Magic face the Brooklyn Nets. Would they watch South Carolina face Gonzaga on college basketball’s biggest stage, or would it be two NBA teams with the worst and second-worst records in the NBA’s Eastern Conference?
For die-hard Magic fans who made the choice to stick with their team, they were not rewarded. Orlando allowed Brooklyn to exert their will in the fourth quarter to come away with a 121-111 victory.
This effort, at least on the defensive end, was a far cry from the toughness showed by the Magic 24 hours before in Boston, where they lost a 117-116 heartbreaker to the Celtics.
Four Magic starters scored at least 20 points on Saturday. Elfrid Payton had another triple-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic posted double-doubles while Evan Fournier added 20. But Saturday’s game was decided by both team’s benches.
When the Magic starters were on the floor, they outscored the Nets by an average of nearly five points. The difference in the game was the Brooklyn reserves, who outscored the Orlando reserves by a staggering 72-16 margin.
Beginning the fourth quarter tied at 89, the Nets, led by the bench, hit the Magic with an 11-0 run. They would not recover and the Nets were able to win their 17th game of the year against 59 losses.
“Their bench came in and took over the game with that stretch to start the fourth quarter,” said Magic Coach Frank Vogel. “Their guards on the perimeter brought a lot of defensive pressure and drove right past us the whole night.”
To illustrate Vogel’s point, Trevor Booker had a season-high 23 points off the bench by missing only one of the 12 shots he took from close in, or jump shots. Brook Lopez led all scorers with 30 points.
It is difficult to imagine the Magic shooting nearly 50 percent and have such a strong offensive game, only to lose. But with this Magic team has lost games many different ways this year.
When asked if it was fair to say the offense is not the problem with this team, Vogel was direct.
“Clearly. One hundred percent,” he said.
After two days off, the Magic (27-50) will find themselves in Cleveland on Tuesday night to take on the defending NBA Champion Cavaliers.
The schedule makers were smart enough to at least not schedule a game on Monday, the night of the NCAA championship game.