Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
We knew reality was going to settle in at some point. For all the much-deserved talk about how good a job Jacque Vaughn has done with this Magic roster, for the handful of games they probably shouldn’t have won that they did, for the fact that they aren’t quite as 2012-Bobcats-y as everyone thought they would be, this team isn’t very good and can’t be expected to beat better teams on a regular basis.
And as Orlando’s losing skid hit a season-high seven games, their longest losing streak since an eight-game slide in 2006, with a Wednesday loss to Chicago, that reality is starting to drive itself home.
Before the game, the Magic appeared to have caught a break when it was announced that Bulls center Joakim Noah was feeling under the weather and sitting out. With Nikola Vucevic coming off a career night against the Heat on New Year’s Eve, it seemed that one of the most notoriously tough frontcourts in the league was a little more vulnerable.
But Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson stepped up and, quite simply, outworked Orlando’s bigs on both ends of the floor. Vucevic looked good once again — he matched his career-high of 20 points and his 12 rebounds are disappointing only when they follow up a franchise-record 29. But Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson, and Gustavo Ayon were generally exposed by Gibson and Boozer, and the rest of the Magic’s players didn’t give them enough elsewhere to make up for the disparity.
The exception to that, of course, was Jameer Nelson, who had his most impressive performance of the season. All questions about his health after sitting out the last two games with a sore left hip were proven completely irrelevant. He put in, more or less, the ideal Jameer Nelson-circa-2009 performance: he scored inside and out, tying a career-high with 32 points on 11-for-20 shooting including 6-for-9 from three. He carried most of the scoring load, out of necessity, because other guys’ shots weren’t falling.
Arron Afflalo hit a three late to keep the game within reach for the Magic and had a solid game with 19 points. But J.J. Redick was mostly silent. The Magic got nothing out of Hedo Turkoglu.
Even despite this, the Magic were able to stay in the game until the end. That’s about all Magic fans can ask for from them at this point. The Bulls are just better and pulled out the win. A lot of teams are better than the Magic are currently. That’s reality and it’s to be expected.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Jameer Nelson had his best game of the season, scoring 32 points on an efficient 11-for-20 shooting and singlehandedly keeping the Magic in the game.
LVP (Least Valuable Player)
J.J. Redick was off all night. His shot wasn’t falling (he was 1-for-8 from three-point range) and didn’t do enough else to make up for his cold shooting performance.
That Was … Predictable
The Magic haven’t just been losing a lot lately. They’ve been losing in heartbreaking fashion by hanging in there until the end against superior teams and falling just short.