EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The bus bringing the Magic to the
arena took nearly two hours to make the 8-mile journey, and that
was only the start of Orlando's problems.
Two starters were out. A player on a 10-day contract was taking
big shots in the fourth quarter. The officials called a technical
foul on Nets coach Lawrence Frank, then rescinded it after the free
throw was made.
"It was hard, man. I fought through an uphill battle all
game," Orlando guard Steve Francis said after the Magic refused to
succumb to all sorts of adversity and defeated the New Jersey Nets
103-102 Saturday night to clinch the tiebreaker between the teams.
Francis had 33 points, five assists and seven rebounds for
Orlando, which won the season series 3-1 with a gutty performance
befitting of a team fighting to make the playoffs.
The Magic, missing starters Grant Hill and Jameer Nelson, had
lost 11 of 14 coming in and were at risk of falling two games
behind Philadelphia for eighth place in the East. Instead, Orlando
passed New Jersey in the conference standings and sent the Nets to
a crushing loss.
"We've been like that all year, fighting teams that don't
really give us any respect," Francis said. "I still believe in
our coach and what he's trying to do, and I believe in the players
on this team regardless of who's injured, regardless of anything."
Rookie Nenad Krstic scored a career-high 28 points and Jason
Kidd had 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Nets.
Kidd had a chance to give New Jersey the win, but missed an open
20-footer from the right corner with 2 seconds left. The Nets could
not control the rebound, and the Magic players were jubilant as
they walked off the court.
"I just couldn't knock it down. I wish I could do it again,"
Kidd said. "It's not devastating. We're still chasing. We have
eight games left and we have to win as many as we can and at the
end of the day see where we finish."
The game featured quite an oddity -- a technical foul that was
rescinded, causing a point to be taken off the scoreboard. Frank
was called for his second technical foul of the fourth quarter
after he charged onto the court following a flagrant foul by Stacey
Augmon against Krstic with 4:06 left.
After Pat Garrity made the technical free throw, referee Derrick
Stafford rescinded the call and took the point off the board.
Stafford told a pool reporter he changed the call after
realizing that Frank had come onto the court expecting an
altercation. "He came as a peacemaker, he didn't say anything and
he went to see about his player," Stafford said.
Krstic picked up a technical foul for shoving Augmon with 3:34
left, and Garrity made the foul shot for a 96-96 tie. Consecutive
jumpers by Andre Barrett, playing on a 10-day contract, put Orlando
Carter hit a 3-pointer to give the Nets a 102-101 lead with 38
seconds left, and Francis made a pair of free throws with 25.5
seconds remaining to give the lead back to Orlando. Travis Best
missed a 3 with 13 seconds left, but Kidd was able to grab the
rebound while falling out of bounds and carom it off Howard.
That gave the Nets possession with 11.8 seconds left, and Kidd
got an open look after an extra defender rushed over to guard
Carter. But the shot missed, and New Jersey's chances of making the
postseason for a fourth consecutive year took a serious hit.
"J-Kidd had a great look. I'd put my money on that any time,"
Carter said. "It's like going to Vegas or Atlantic City. Sometimes
you win, sometimes you lose."
The game developed a pattern that kept repeating itself: The
Nets would pull in front by a comfortable margin before the Magic
fought back. New Jersey was ahead by 13 in the second quarter
before Orlando pulled within two by halftime, then went ahead by 13
again in the third quarter only to see the Magic pull within five
entering the fourth.
After Orlando pulled within two, New Jersey got its lead back to
seven again before allowing the Magic's final comeback.
Nets G Jacque Vaughn broke a bone in his right foot early
in the first quarter. The seven-year veteran, who has started 34
games at shooting guard, will have surgery next week and is out for
the remainder of the season. ... Orlando's bus from Manhattan was
diverted because of a problem at the Lincoln Tunnel, which connects
New York and New Jersey. ... Nelson missed his third straight game
with a torn rib muscle, and Hill was a late scratch due to soreness
from a left shin contusion -- the injury that caused him to miss
three games early last month.