Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) goes up to shoot...

Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) goes up to shoot as Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 26, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) Credit: Phelan M. Ebenhack

ORLANDO, Fla. — In theory, this should have been the easy game.

Less than 24 hours after an emotional win over the Miami Heat team they are fighting with for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Nets couldn’t muster the energy to beat a lottery team and were defeated, 119-106, by the Orlando Magic on Sunday night.

With seven games remaining, the Nets have lost six of their last seven. This loss put the Nets (40-35) in a tie with the Heat for sixth place in the conference.

The loss also wasted another stellar performance by Mikal Bridges.

Bridges finished with 44 points, one point shy of the career high he had in a Feb. 15 game against Miami at Barclays Center. Bridges was 6-for-9 from three-point range and 12-for-12 from the free-throw line.

The problem was he didn’t get much offensive support from his teammates, some of whom looked gassed from having played a tough game less than 24 hours earlier. Take away Bridges’ three-pointers, and the Nets were 2-for-26 from behind the line.

Cam Thomas scored 18 points off the bench. The only other player to score in double figures was Cam Johnson, who had 10 points but was 1-for-5 from behind the arc.

“We didn’t make shots,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We were searching and trying to find ways to score the basketball.”

Orlando (32-43) finished with eight players in double figures. Cole Anthony led the Magic with 21 points and Franz Wagner added 19 points with 10 rebounds.

Vaughn knew going in that he was going to have to go deep into his bench. The Nets, who were in Miami Saturday night for an 8 o’clock game, were playing one of the shortest turnarounds in the NBA involving back-to-back games in different cities. The team didn’t get to the hotel in Orlando until after 2 a.m., and Sunday’s game tipped off at 6.

What’s more, two players who played in Miami — Royce O’Neal (left knee soreness) and Edmond Sumner (bruised right hip) — were ruled out before the game.

“I’m not an excuse guy. Guys gave what they had tonight across the board,” Vaughn said.

“Tough back-to-back for us. A lot of learning lessons coming out of this. It’s a tough one. We come off a good win and the message to the guys is we are going to have to earn every single game we get. No one is going to give it to us. We have to go get it.”

Once again, the player the Nets used the most was Bridges. Bridges had 19 of his team’s 25 points in the first quarter. The 19 points in a first quarter tied his career high for a first quarter, which he set earlier this month against Charlotte.

“He’s done a great job for them obviously since the trade,” Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley said.

“It’s his ability to get quick easy baskets, make threes at a nice clip and his ability to get to the free-throw line. He knows how to play the game.”

Bridges said he hadn’t played particularly well at Amway Arena in the past, so he wanted to have a big game.

“I was just making shots and trying to get to my spots,” he said. “I’ve struggled here before. I wanted to keep us in and win the game.”

He was able to do that in the first quarter, but Orlando had enough players hitting shots that they outscored the Nets 68-49 over the next two quarters.

“They controlled the energy of the game,” Johnson said. “We have a big stretch coming up and it’s going to determine a lot for our future, so we have to be locked in for it.”

More Brooklyn Nets

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months