The Nets were clinging to the seventh playoff seed by a half-game ahead of the Magic when the NBA season paused on March 11, but their re-start opener against Orlando blew up in their faces and suggested they might struggle to hold the eighth and final playoff seed despite a substantial lead over the ninth-place Wizards.
The Nets trailed by as many as 31 points on their way to a 128-118 loss to the Magic Friday afternoon in Orlando. Their defense was non-existent as they allowed the Magic 111 points in the first three periods.
The Nets (30-35) were led by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who scored 17 of his 24 points in the fourth period when the Nets ended the game on an 18-0 run that reduced the magnitude of the blowout. Caris LeVert added 17 points, and Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris scored 14 each, but the loss gave the Nets an 0-3 record against the Magic this season and assures a loss in any playoff tiebreaker even if they beat Orlando in a rematch during the seeding games. Evan Fournier topped the Magic (31-35) with 24 points and five assists, and Nikola Vucevic added 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The Nets’ poor start to the eight-game seeding schedule was a major letdown, but Allen compared it to their 1-2 scrimmage record, which started with a 31-point blowout loss to the Pelicans.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” he said. “We put in all of this work, we put in all of these hours, and then, we come out like that. It’s deflating. But . . . you see how we responded to the Pelicans game. After that, we came and played the next two games well. I think we’ve very capable of responding as a team.”
Although it had been 143 days since their last game on March 10 in Los Angeles, where they upset the Lakers, the Nets got off to a fast start, jumping to an early 16-8 lead on 7-for-9 shooting. But both teams were blistering hot in the first quarter, which ended with the Nets holding a 39-36 edge after shooting 69.6% from the field (16-for-23) but allowing Orlando to hit 61.9% (13-for-21).
The Nets cooled considerably in the middle two periods when they shot 34.9% (15-for-43) as the Magic did an excellent job of containing LeVert and getting the ball out of his hands, which could be a sign of things to come for a team missing several key players for the re-start.
“I think there’s no hiding that he is the focal point of the offense, so we’ll make some adjustments that way,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “At the same time, Caris was extremely unselfish . . . You can draw two people. So, we can use him to score for us and to get opportunities for others and totally believe that guys will take advantage of those opportunities and knock some shots down.”
In the third period, Orlando took full control with a 15-2 run, including six points each from Fournier and Vucevic to push their lead to 28 at 101-73 with 3:47 left in the third quarter, and it reached the 31-point spread at the end of the period.
Describing how things fell apart in the middle of the game, LeVert said, “I don’t think we made adjustments quick enough. We didn’t get enough stops. We put them to the line way too many times.
“They scored way too many points. They’re not even really a high-scoring team. We scored our fair share of points, but we have to stop people if we’re even going to have a chance out here.”