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NBA: Orlando Magic's struggles continue, despite hot shooting

Published April 22, 2012 12:41 am

NBA • Dwight Howard's absence leaves Magic defenseless.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Anyone who came to EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday eager to see a team in trouble got it in the Orlando Magic.

And not just because the coach and star player can't play nice.

After Utah's season-affirming 117-107 overtime win over the Magic, Orlando players morosely lamented their continued absence of defense, which can be directly tied to the absence of a discontented Dwight Howard, who underwent surgery last week and will miss the rest of the season.

"We can't guard anyone," coach Stan Van Gundy said, spitting out each word as if it were offset by its own punctuation.

The Magic, who will likely enter the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 6 seed, shot 39.5 percent from the 3-point line on 38 attempts, but were well over 50 percent for much of the second half. If ever a team lived and died by the 3, it was Orlando, which used the 3-pointer to surge, and then collapsed when the rim wouldn't swallow its attempts.

After Utah went up 67-62 early in the third quarter, Orlando's Jameer Nelson made back-to-back 3-pointers. The shots keyed a 16-0 run.

By the time the Jazz clawed back to pull with 83-81 at the end of the period, the Magic missed five of their last six 3s.

Playing without Howard and Earl Clark, it's easy to think the undermanned and outsized Magic were forced to go outside, where they made 15-of-38 attempts. Jason Richardson, who scored 15 points in the first quarter and finished with 21, said that wasn't the case.

"That's just how we play even with Dwight, we get a lot of 3s up," Richardson said. "That's how we pretty much play with him down low, surrounded by shooters to space out. We shot the ball pretty good today, rushed a few of them, but overall I thought we shot it pretty good."

The most notable missed 3-pointer was as time expired at the end of regulation, when Nelson dribbled around for 20 seconds before firing a shot that Devin Harris easily blocked.

"Hindsight 20-20," Van Gundy said, "I shouldn't have ran what I ran, I should have brought Glen [Davis] up into a high pick and roll."

It raised the serious question, though, of who the Magic can beat if they rely so heavily on 3-pointers. On the season they have shoot 37 percent.

Given the success Orlando found Saturday, though, most worry in the Magic locker room was focused on the defense that allowed Utah to outscore the Magic 16-6 in overtime.

Richardson hit a 3-pointer with 3:47 remaining to put the Magic up 98-94.

"That point was when we really needed a stop to come down and get another bucket," J.J. Redick said. "That pretty much would have been done it."

Forward Ryan Anderson, who was 5-of-12 on 3-pointers and finished with 21 points, agreed that Orlando's focus needs to be on defensive adjustments.

"Ultimately I don't really think it's our offense that's the problem," Anderson said. "I think we can score the ball. We've done a great job of doing that, especially as of late. It's the defense you know. We've got to get some key stops."

boram@sltrib.com

Twitter: @oramb