SALT LAKE CITY — After it ended, many players inside the Orlando Magic locker room sat at their stalls and stared straight ahead.
They had come so close to winning a game they should not have won, only to see the same old mistakes on defense and a few key missed opportunities haunt them. The injury-depleted Magic showed plenty of heart, but they ultimately ran out of steam against the Utah Jazz, losing in overtime 117-107 at EnergySolutions Arena.
“Our spirit is there, man,” Glen Davis said, speaking a hushed tone, sounding as exhausted as the team looked down the stretch. “Some things are just not falling the way we need it to fall. And I’ll be honest with you: These are mistakes we’ve been making the whole year.”
Playing without Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark, all injured, the Magic allowed the taller and bigger Jazz to shoot 53.4 percent, the seventh time in nine games without Howard that Orlando has allowed an opponent to make more than half its shots.
“We cannot guard,” said coach Stan Van Gundy, clearly disgusted. “We cannot. I don’t think it’s that our guys are not trying. I don’t know what it is, but we cannot guard anyone.”
They didn’t in overtime.
Utah, which is fighting for its playoff life, made five of its eight shot attempts in OT, including a 3-pointer by Gordon Hayward that extended the Jazz’ lead to 110-105 with 1:38 left in the extra period.
The Magic had squandered their chances.
They led by 12 points with 4:15 left in the third quarter, only to see Utah close out the period on a 12-2 run.
Then, in the fourth, the Magic took a four-point lead on a trey by Jason Richardson with 3:47 to go, only to see that lead evaporate.
Orlando had the last shot in regulation, with the score tied 101-101.
Jameer Nelson took an inbounds pass with 8.0 seconds left, but he did not drive to the hoop or see Anderson, who was open. Nelson instead settled for a 25-foot heave as time expired, and Devin Harris blocked the shot easily.
Harris grabbed the ball after the buzzer sounded, and spiked it against the court as the announced crowd of 19,580 roared and stood on its feet.
Van Gundy blamed himself for not calling a high pick-and-roll between Nelson and Davis. Van Gundy had worried that the Jazz would trap it, so he decided to give Nelson some room to go one-on-one with Harris.
It didn’t work.
“I’m not happy with the play I called,” Van Gundy said. “I should’ve given him something he was more comfortable with.”
Nelson said: “I should’ve made a better shot, made a better move to get my shot off. But he played good defense.”
Nelson finished with 23 points and 11 assists, both game highs.
Richardson and Anderson scored 21 points apiece.
But with Howard, Turkoglu and Clark out, the Magic simply didn’t have any depth on its front line. It didn’t help that Daniel Orton accumulated five fouls in 11 minutes.
The Jazz (34-30) began the overtime with Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap on the court, and the Magic (36-27) just could not match up.
“A three guard can’t guard Paul on the post,” Favors said.
Even with that height disadvantage, even with that depth disadvantage, even though the Jazz made more than half their shots, the Magic collected 43 rebounds to the Jazz’ 44.
“We hate to keep on saying this, but we battled our butts off, and we’ll continue to do that throughout the rest of the season and into the playoffs,” said Jason Richardson, a natural shooting guard who is starting at small forward now.
What’s troubling to Van Gundy is that the Magic continue to struggle defensively. If something does not change, and change quickly, Orlando’s playoff run might not go beyond four games, even if the Magic maintain the spirit they’ve shown since team officials announced on April 13 that Howard had a herniated disk.
“Our lack of depth was an absolute huge factor in the game,” Van Gundy said. “Those guys ran out of gas at the end. But our defense was disturbing, to say the least.”
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