Strong defense over the last month has put the Orlando Magic on the verge of their third straight Southeast Division title.
In their last game, however, they definitely fell short of the standard they have set.
The Magic look to bounce back Sunday when they host the Memphis Grizzlies in their fifth straight game against a team from the Western Conference.
After beginning March with a two-game division lead over Atlanta, Orlando (52-23) has begun to pull away and is close to securing the title. The Magic have won 14 of 17, including three in a row before a 112-100 loss at San Antonio on Friday.
Dwight Howard(notes) was held to 10 points and six rebounds. He went 2 of 11 at the free throw line, missing four in the final five minutes. A fan behind the Orlando bench had to be removed from the arena after he heckled Howard on his poor free throw shooting.
“Sometimes people can take it too far,” Howard said. “It’s a great thing to have fans come to the game, but once you attack somebody personally, guys sometimes take that serious, especially after a frustrating night.”
While Howard’s struggles at the line contributed to the loss, the bigger problem was the lack of defense. It was only the second time in 15 games Orlando gave up more than 100 points and the first time during that stretch it allowed more than 100 points in a regulation game.
In the Magic’s previous three wins, they allowed the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Mavericks to average 92.0 points and shoot 45.0 percent. The Spurs shot 51.8 percent, and Orlando had no answer for Manu Ginobili(notes), who scored 43 points.
“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to play,” said Howard, whose team will be looking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since a three-game skid from January 13-18. “We just have to come back Sunday and have a better game on both ends of the floor as I’m pretty sure we’ll bounce back strong. We never let one game affect the rest of the season.”
The Magic lost their first meeting with the Grizzlies (39-36) this season, falling 99-94 on Jan. 25. Memphis was within one game of San Antonio for the sixth seed in the Western Conference after that win, but has since fall out of contention.
The Grizzlies snapped a three-game losing streak with a 107-96 win over New Orleans on Friday. After losing their previous two games in overtime, they led by as many as 20 points, outrebounding the Hornets 56-41 and outscoring them 22-9 at the free-throw line.
The win kept Memphis on track to finish the season with a winning record. It needs to win at least three of its final seven games to finish above .500 for the first time since 2005-06.
“I think it would be huge because ‘Bad News Bears’ is all I’ve heard for the last three years along with bad ownership, management and decisions,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “To get to .500 would really set the stage for next year.”
The Grizzlies last swept their season series against the Magic in 2005-06.