The New Orleans Hornets were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 99-93 in an odd game where the leading scorer was, wait for it, Willie Green with 24 points. Ultimately, the deciding factor in the loss for the Magic was an inability to execute in late-game situations. Orlando had a multitude of chances of winning the game, yet were unable to do so because they either missed a shot or turned the basketball over on 11 of their last 12 possessions in the fourth quarter. That’s pretty embarrassing, especially when it should be noted that the Magic had an advantage with Dwight Howard being guarded by Aaron Gray during that timeframe. Orlando should have given the ball to Howard on every possession, yet they did the exact opposite. There’s a multitude of things that went wrong for the Magic but those are some of the key items of note. The Hornets were led by a balanced attack, as six players scored in double-figures. Aside from Green lighting up Orlando, David West was able to put together an impressive outing with 17 points, 17 rebounds, and four assists. Chris Paul, a candidate for MVP, didn’t look entirely like himself on the court, finishing with 15 points and seven assists. Howard led the way for the Magic with 20 points, 17 rebounds, and three blocks but his stat-line should have been much better, considering the circumstances.
Let’s start with the positives.
When Orlando was down by 12 points in the third quarter, it was the starting lineup that chipped away at the deficit but it was a 5-man unit of Gilbert Arenas, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, Earl Clark, and Howard that allowed the Magic to surge into the lead. After Howard was able to throw down a monstrous slam dunk that put the score at 86-82 in favor of Orlando, it seemed like they were going to come away with a victory.
The warm weather gave Arenas a burst of explosiveness that has come and gone since he’s arrived to the Magic. Plus, Arenas’ jumper was falling and he was able to put together a rare efficient performance, scoring 11 points on nine shots. And Clark — someone that has quickly become a fan favorite — was playing the best basketball of his career. Clark’s was disruptive defensively when matched up against West, plus his weak-side defense was excellent.
There was one play in particular that highlighted Clark’s potential.
Gray looked to be setting up for a wide-open dunk, but Clark came out of nowhere and swiped the ball clean for a block. The thing that’s most impressive about Clark is that he’s fighting out there and it’s becoming harder for head coach Stan Van Gundy to justify not playing him. Clark has his flaws, sure, but his mid-range jumper has shown some consistency and his new-found strength (10 pounds of muscle) is paying dividends when it comes to battling for rebounds.
It’ll be interesting to keep a track of Clark’s potential but it’s clear that Van Gundy has reached this kid. Van Gundy isn’t afraid of playing young players if they show a commitment to defense and play with enthusiasm. Right now, Clark is doing both of those things and getting rewarded for it. There’s a lot that Clark still needs to learn but, amidst the dark clouds surrounding the City beautiful, this is a young man that shows a lot of promise. Make no mistake — Clark is an x-factor.
Now the negatives.
Perimeter defense was, once again, a problem. Yes, New Orleans hit some insane shots throughout the game but there were too many instances where Orlando’s rotations defensively were a step slow. Another issue for the Magic was their late-game execution, which was laughably horrible. Free-throw shooting woes or not, there’s no reason that Howard shouldn’t be touching the basketball on each possession with the game on the line. For whatever reason, Orlando chucked up a lot of wild shots on the perimeter and couldn’t make anything. Exacerbating the Magic’s problems were turnovers. Simply put, there was too many miscues. When Orlando had a chance to tie the game at 96, Turkoglu threw the ball far too wide for the outstretched hands of Richardson.
It can be argued that Trevor Ariza got away with a push on Richardson, but that’s on Turkoglu to make the pass.
It’s a shame because this is a game that the Magic deserved to win in the middle of the fourth quarter but when it was all said and done, they earned their loss.