ORLANDO, Fla. — These are the dog days of the NBA season as it approaches the All-Star break and injuries mount for many teams, and the Nets are feeling it more than most.
After a phenomenal midseason turnaround in which they went 19-5, the Nets lost for the third time in their past four games by a 102-89 count to the Magic on Saturday night at Amway Center.
The Nets cut their deficit to five points early in the fourth quarter, but it was clear they were running on fumes while playing their fourth game in six nights. They fought hard on defense to stay within striking distance but struggled to convert at the offensive end. All-Star Nikola Vucevic scored 12 points in a 22-14 Magic run to end the game.
Coach Kenny Atkinson said the game got away because the Nets committed 18 turnovers leading to 22 Magic points. He blamed a third quarter in which the Nets gave up 34 points.
Looking ahead to a week with three home games — including Monday against the Bucks and Wednesday against the Nuggets, two of the top teams in the NBA — Atkinson expressed hope that his team might recoup its losses.
“We’ve got a big week coming up, so we’ve got to recover, we’ve got to freshen up a little bit,” he said. “I didn’t think we had great juice tonight. Just not enough juice. We’ve got to recover it. We’re playing two excellent teams right off the bat. Good thing we’re at home, so that will help.”
In his first game since being named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, D’Angelo Russell led the Nets (28-26) with 23 points and six assists. Shabazz Napier added 15 points and Ed Davis had 11 points and 16 rebounds for the Nets, who shot only 36.3 percent from the field and 26.3 from three-point range.
Vucevic had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Magic (22-31), who had six players in double figures, including Evan Fournier with 16 and Aaron Gordon with 15.
Asked about making a push to build on their winning record in the final five games before the All-Star break, Russell said: “We can’t get comfortable. We’ve got to stay sharp offensively and defensively. I think the mental preparation going into every game has to be us being thirsty. We’ve got to get that mentality like we lost eight in a row and that will be to our advantage.”
The Nets were facing a Magic squad fighting to get into playoff contention and bent on revenge after losing two games to the Nets in the previous two weeks. The Magic grabbed a 13-point lead in the first quarter, but the Nets dug in on defense and kept it close.
Napier scored nine points in a 19-9 run that gave the Nets a 48-44 halftime lead, but the Magic regained control for good with a 21-6 run for a 71-61 lead late in the third quarter.
Asked if four games in six nights contributed to that breakdown, Nets center Jarrett Allen said: “I wouldn’t say no because that’s a lot of games to play in just six nights, and also we’ve been playing our hearts out. We have a lot of injuries, so a lot of people have to step up.”
Several Nets had rough shooting nights that seemed a sign of fatigue. Joe Harris shot 3-for-12, missing all five of his three-point attempts.
“Everybody’s banged up and a little fatigued at this point in the season, and it’s just about finding a way,” Harris said. “You see people get to the All-Star break and find a little time to rejuvenate yourself. Right now, all the focus is just on these last few games [before the break], and we have to make them count.”