If the Charlotte Bobcats never get to sixth place in the Eastern Conference, this could be remembered as the night that hope died.
The Bobcats led by 16 points in the first half over an Orlando Magic team that had lost nine of its previous 10. Then they were outworked, falling to pieces in overtime for a 110-105 loss at Amway Center.
The Magic has 21 victories this season. Two of those are over the Bobcats, who are attempting to chase down the Washington Wizards for sixth in the East, thus avoiding the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
Friday looked like a great opportunity with the Bobcats playing a lottery team and the Wizards playing the East-leading Pacers. Worked just the opposite; the Wizards won, extending their lead over the Bobcats to 2 1/2 games. The two face off Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford wasn’t worried about standings. He was worried about how badly his team was outworked. The Magic outrebounded the Bobcats 57-36. Orlando center Nikola Vucevic finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds.
Vucevic also played tremendous defense on Bobcats center Al Jefferson late, holding him to four points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Clifford said all the conversation at Friday-morning shootaround was about Vucevic. And yet that didn’t translate to a real response.
“They outworked us on the glass and all we talked about this morning was Vucevic,” said Clifford, whose team lost to a sub-.500 opponent for only the third time since late January.
“Our pick-and-roll defense wasn’t close to what it needs to be. I want to see a recommitment to the way we defended and rebounded earlier this season.”
Despite all that, Clifford felt the game should have been won in regulation. He brought up a particular play – Arron Afflalo’s 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter – that ultimately sent the game into overtime.
Clifford is very familiar with Afflalo’s skill set, having coached him as a Magic assistant. The players were all warned what was coming during a timeout with 14 seconds left.
“A player made a mistake,” Clifford said. “Do what we’re supposed to do, and the game ends.”
That player was shooting guard Gerald Henderson, who chose to go under the screen Vucevic set for Afflalo, rather than fighting over the screen. That left Afflalo wide open for the only shot that could have extended the game, with the Magic down three.
“It was a split-second decision and I made the wrong one,” Henderson said.
“Just the wrong decision because that was the shot they needed.”
That wasted a night when power forward Josh McRoberts reached career highs with 24 points and six 3-pointers. But it all crashed down in overtime, when the Bobcats shot just 3-of-12 from the field.
MAGIC 110, BOBCATS 105, OT