The Nets came back from a 16-point second-quarter deficit thanks to strong play by their bench to take a two-point lead early in the fourth quarter. But when their starters returned to the floor, they let the game get out of control down the stretch as Markelle Fultz scored 12 of his 25 points in the final period of the Magic’s 101-89 victory Monday night at Amway Center.
The loss was the sixth straight for the Nets (16-19) and seventh in their past eight games.
After the Nets shot poorly most of the game, their second unit finally put together an extended 21-9 run spanning the third and fourth quarters and took a 78-76 lead on Wilson Chandler’s layup with 8:58 left. Dzanan Musa scored six points in that stretch and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot added five.
But the Magic responded moments later with nine straight points that turned into a 15-1 surge, nine of which were scored by Fultz, to restore a 91-79 lead with 4:13 left. The Nets went 6:01 between field goals.
“Tied with seven minutes to go,” Kenny Atkinson said with a grimace. “Our starters are struggling a little bit. I thought our bench was good. Starters and that group have been really good the whole year. They’re just struggling lately. But I was proud of our defensive effort.
“I thought our process was right on offense. We had a ton of open threes, we got to the rim at a high rate. We just didn’t make threes and didn’t finish at the rim. So that’s a bad combination.”
Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris scored 16 points each, but they were the only Nets in double figures. The Nets shot only 33.3% from the field and 21.3% from three-point range (10-for-47).
D.J. Augustin had 16 points off the bench and Nikola Vucevic added 11 points and 24 rebounds for the Magic (17-20).
Asked if the Nets’ fourth-quarter problems have become a mental thing because of poor shooting, Atkinson said, “Sure, I think there’s a little bit of a crisis of confidence. There’s no doubt about it . . . We’re just in a rut. We shot the ball real well early in the season, where we’re not shooting it well now. It’ll come back. I have confidence in these guys.”
Harris had a 6-for-11 shooting night, but the rest of the starters — Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Garrett Temple and Jarrett Allen — went a combined 12-for-49, including 5-for-27 from three-point range.
Asked if playing shorthanded because of injuries much of the season has taken a toll on the first unit, Dinwiddie expressed confidence that the shooting will turn around.
“I mean, we’re going on 20 games or something like that,” he said of the segment of the season spent coping with injuries. “That’s a quarter of the season. We have to settle into a rhythm of who we are and how we’re going to play night in and night out.”
After his return against the Raptors on Saturday at Barclays Center, the Nets held out Caris LeVert for purposes of injury management coming off right thumb surgery. The Magic game came in the middle of a stretch of three games in four nights, and Atkinson said LeVert will play against the Thunder on Tuesday night at home.
LeVert remains on a minutes limit, but Atkinson said, “We’ll bump him up a little. It’s like we’ve always done, incremental minutes and build him up, and hopefully, after a short period, he’ll be ready for full-on.”
Asked if LeVert will come off the bench again, Atkinson said, “Haven’t decided. With a little more minutes, we’ll look at it, talk to the coaches, see what we can do.”