Magic musings: Strong start gives way to sluggish second half

ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and getting a career-high 13 assists from Elfrid Payton, the Orlando Magic lost for the ninth time in their last 10 games Friday night as the Detroit Pistons defeated them 111-97.

The Magic had a 10-4 record this season in games where they made at least half of their field-goal attempts. But the Pistons, still clinging to hopes of sneaking into the NBA playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, took control by shooting 51.4 percent over the last two quarters.

By the time Shaquille O’Neal — who was inducted earlier in the day into the Magic’s Hall of Fame — left with his family with 6:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Pistons were up by 16 points.

”Our defense was not there at all tonight,” said forward Tobias Harris, who led the Magic with 21 points but had only eight of those in the first three quarters. ”When you shoot that percentaqe (52.4 percent), you’re supposed to feel like you’re in the game. I don’t think we had any energy at all. That was the discouraging part about it.”

With power forward Dewayne Dedmon out because of a sore left ankle which flared up during the fourth quarter of their loss Wednesday night to the Atlanta Hawks, the Magic had no noticeable interior defense or shot-blocking threat. The Pistons finished with 46 points in the paint, continuing a pattern of defensive slippage compared to when James Borrego took over last month as interim coach.

”I guess it’s not the same aggressiveness, not the same focus as when JB first took over,” center Nikola Vucevic said. ”We’ve just got to make a change, and by that I mean just making a change of being more focused, more aggressive.”

The Magic started well, hitting eight of their first 10 shots, but trailed 30-27 after one quarter and 54-53 at halftime. Andrew Nicholson made his second start in the last three games in place of Dedmon and scored eight of his 10 points in the first half but grabbed only two rebounds in 27 minutes.

Vucevic had 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Victor Oladipo finished with 16 points and seven assists but only three rebounds. Payton’s 13 assists topped his previous high of 12 set last week at Dallas.

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In their first season under former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons wound up taking the season series 3-1 and won both meetings in Orlando. The Magic finished March with a 3-11 record.

”Over these next four days, we all as individuals have to look at ourselves in the mirror,” Harris said. ”We have to come in here to work every day. We have to really ask ourselves what we’re trying to get out of this toward the end of the season.

”We have to try to win games. We have to build something.”

THE TURNING POINT

After leading 57-56 early in the third quarter, the Magic were outscored 31-19 the remainder of the period. Reggie Jackson had 17 points during a nine-minute stretch which also included center Andre Drummond, a 38.9-shooter from the free-throw line, hitting both of his attempts after being intentionally fouled a second time by Aaron Gordon.

THE DIFFERENCE MAKER

Jackson recorded only the second triple-double against the Magic this season. He finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook had 25 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists against them Feb. 2.

STAT OF THE GAME

The Pistons turned the ball over only seven times, tying a season low for any Magic opponent.

WHAT’S NEXT

Wednesday night vs. San Antonio, 7 p.m.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.