By Jason Schott - @JESchott19
The Nets suffered a tough loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, 115-111, and their Atlantic Division title hopes took a major hit as they fell three games behind the Toronto Raptors.
Toronto got a comeback win against the Philadelphia 76ers at home, 125-114, and their three-game lead with four to play is virtually insurmountable. Toronto is now 46-35 and host the Knicks on Friday night. The Nets fell to 43-35, and host the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, who are clinging to a two-game lead over the Knicks for the eighth seed in the playoffs.
The results of Friday's Toronto-New York and Brooklyn-Atlanta game will play a big part in the fates of the four teams. One scenario is if Toronto and Atlanta win, the Raptors would clinch the Atlantic, and Atlanta would have a stranglehold on the eighth seed, with a three-game lead over the Knicks with three to play.
The Nets-Orlando game on Wednesday had the feel of a letdown the day after a big party you were looking forward to for awhile. The fact that the arena was deserted added to the feeling.
Nets Head Coach Jason Kidd rewarded Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston with the night off after their efforts in the win in Miami Tuesday, with the reason being minor injuries. Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson took their spots. Kevin Garnett was back in the starting lineup after sitting out Tuesday's game, just the second time he has been in the starting lineup since February 27th. It probably will be musical chairs on the Nets' bench for the rest of the regular season as Kidd wants everyone as fresh as possible for the start of postseason in ten days.
The game was a see-saw affair, with the Nets leading 22-20 at the end of the first quarter and had a 28-27 lead on a Marcus Thornton layup with 9:03 left in the second. The Magic put a jolt into this one with an 18-1 run over the next four minutes, led by E'Twaun Moore, who had 11 points in the stretch and 14 overall in the second quarter. The Magic led 55-43 at halftime.
The third quarter belonged to Mirza Teletovic, who hit four three-pointers, with the last one giving the Nets a 73-72 lead with 2:23 left in the quarter. Deron Williams hit a three of his own to make it 76-75 Brooklyn with 1:10 left in the third, and the Magic closed the quarter on an 8-2 run, capped by a Moore three as time expired to make it 83-78 Magic entering the fourth.
The Nets kept chipping away in the fourth, and tied it at 97 on a Marcus Thornton three with 4:45 left, part of seven points Thornton scored in the fourth. The Magic responded with a jumper from Dewayne Dedmon and a layup from Aaron Afflalo to make it 101-97 with 3:38 left.
Mr. Clutch, Joe Johnson, took over down the stretch as he made four straight jumpers, the last of which cutting Orlando's lead to 110-109 with 14 seconds left. The nets had to foul, and Jameer Nelson made his two free throws to make it 112-109. The Nets still had plenty of time, and Johnson was set up for a three on the side, but had three Magic players on him, and Kyle O'Quinn blocked Johnson's attempt. This was the second straight night a block at the end decided the game, with Mason Plumlee's "block heard 'round the world," as coined by Ian Eagle, on Tuesday night sealing the Nets' win in Miami.
Johnson led the Nets with 31 points on 11-for-19 from the field, including 2-for-6 on threes, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. Mirza Teletovic had 17 points, with all five of his made baskets three-pointers. He shot 5-17 overall and 5-12 from behind the arc. Mason Plumlee had 16 points (7-8 FG) and 5 rebounds in what is now a rare spot coming off the bench. Marcus Thornton had 13 points, and Deron Williams had 11 points and 5 assists. Williams had 3 steals as well, extending his team record to 28 consecutive games with a steal.