EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) With a month to go in the season, Stan Van Gundy isn’t very happy with the way the Orlando Magic play with the lead.
Instead of putting teams away, the Magic have been letting them hang around. It didn’t hurt against the woeful New Jersey Nets on Friday night. The playoffs might be different.
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“All year, losing the lead is how we play,” Van Gundy said after the Magic defeated the Nets 97-87 for their fourth straight win. “Give us a lead and we will play poorly at both ends of the floor. I have absolutely no idea how to fix it.”
Matt Barnes scored 14 of his 16 points in the first quarter to stake the Magic to a double-digit lead, but Orlando never could put together a run to make the game a laugher.
“We’re just trying to get wins, get the job done,” said Vince Carter, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half against his former teammates. “Give credit to them. That team plays hard regardless of the record. We got lax, but we got the job done.”
Carter said Van Gundy was a little upset because the Nets were able to cut the Magic’s 17-point, fourth-quarter lead to eight in the waning minutes.
“We were able to close out. That’s all that matters,” Carter said. “Our goal is to put teams away. We didn’t do it, but at the same time, we found a way to get it done.”
Dwight Howard added 11 points and 16 rebounds, and the Magic hit 13 3-pointers in beating the Nets for the third time this season.
“We know we have things to work on,” said point guard Jameer Nelson, who had 15 points and eight of the Magic’s 24 assists. “You don’t want to have a 17-point lead and see them cut it to eight. It happened and we have to continue to work on it.”
Devin Harris had 17 points and 10 assists for the Nets (6-55), who lost their third straight after stunning Boston last weekend. Brook Lopez added 18 points and eight rebounds.
Terrence Williams added 14 points and Kris Humphries 12 as the Nets fell to 3-28 at the not-so-friendly confines of the Izod Center.
Jason Williams, who had 18 points in his last five games, tallied 13 for Orlando.
The Nets held a press conference earlier Friday to trumpet their temporary move to Newark next season and then gave another unemotional effort against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Barnes hit six of seven shots in the opening quarter and scored 12 straight points for Orlando in helping them take a 32-18 lead.
“We gave up a ton of transition points in first six, seven, eight minutes of the first quarter,” Harris said. “We can’t spot Matt Barnes 14 points in the first quarter. He’s a good player, but we can’t let him have those types of numbers and expect to win. I thought we did a decent job on Dwight for the most part, but we gave them the head start.”
With Humphries, Terrence Williams and Jarvis Hayes all scoring five points in the second quarter, the Nets managed to cut the lead to seven points at the half.
Carter, traded to Orlando in a draft-day blockbuster that cleared cap room for New Jersey in the upcoming offseason, scored nine points in the third quarter to push the lead back to 15 and it was never close again.
Carter actually had a 3-pointer taken away in the quarter during a timeout when the officials reviewed the videotape and discovered his shot didn’t beat the 24-second clock.
NOTES: Harris hit a 40-footer at the end of the first quarter, but it came after the buzzer. … The Magic are 30-4 when they hit 10 or more 3-pointers. … Orlando is 30-11 against the Eastern Conference. … Barnes and Van Gundy got hit with technical fouls for arguing non-calls on what seemingly were obvious fouls. … New Jersey never led in the game. … Nets starting shooting guard Courtney Lee missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle.