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Nets lose two straight for the first time in more than a month, 102-89, to Magic

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magic Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

They just didn’t have it. The Nets fell to the Magic Saturday night, 102-89 in a game that featured poor shooting and sloppy ball handling. It the Nets first back-to-back loss since the end of December.

“Collectively we were just a little bit out of rhythm. Maybe the ball was a little stagnant at times,” said Joe Harris post-game.

Kenny Atkinson agreed.

“I think the ball is sticking. That’s part of it,” said the coach. “We addressed it at halftime, the slow decisions, not moving it as quickly as we should. We only had 23 assists tonight. The ‘play-with-the-pass’ mentality we normally have is not there right now. We’re trying to attack too quickly without getting an advantage. It happens. It’s slippage, and we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and help our guys through this little stretch.”

Brooklyn (28-26) was playing their third game in five days, fourth in six days and it showed early. The Nets had five turnovers in the first quarter and shot poorly. They went down by eight early and were down 26-21 at the end of the first.

Then, at the end of the second quarter, the Nets looked like they had woken up with a 13-4 stretch, led by Shabazz Napier’s two three’s in the last minute, one a buzzer beater. That gave the Nets 48-44 lead at the half. D’Angelo Russell led the way with 15 points.

With the Nets leading the NBA in third quarter dominance, there seemed to be hope for yet another comeback. Instead of dominating, the Nets disappeared in the third, giving up 34 points while scoring only 22 themselves.

The Nets made a couple of moves in the fourth, but the Magic ended the game big. Their first time All-Star, Nikola Vucevic, dominated late, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the last seven minutes.

The Nets shot a miserable 36.3 percent overall, their second worst performance of the season to go along with 26.3 percent from three. Their 89 points was also only the third time this season they couldn’t break the 90-point barrier. Making it worse, the Nets had 19 turnovers that led to 22 points.

The Nets were led by Russell, who had 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting, to go with six assists. But he also finished with five turnovers. Also in double figures was Shabazz Napier who had 15 points and three assists. Ed Davis registered his fourth double-double with 11 points and 16 boards and three assists. Jarrett Allen finished with six and eight. Joe Harris, who’ll be competing in the three-point contest at All-Star Weekend, went 0-of-5 from deep.

One concern: Rodions Kurucs seems to have hit the rookie wall. The swingman played only 44 minutes for F.C. Barcelona and as Atkinson said, the big Latvian may have hit a bit of the rookie wall. In his last nine games, he’s shooting 2-of-22 from deep.

And yes, they miss Spencer Dinwiddie.

“The loss of Dinwiddie, when we lose a player like that, you’re going to feel it,” said Russell. “You’re going to force guys to step up and have to do things they’re not used to doing. Anytime you have a player of that caliber going down, you’re going to miss him.

PLAYOFF HUNT

The Nets remain the six seed, but their margins are slipping. They’re four and a half ahead of nine seed Pistons, but only a game ahead of the seven seed Hornets and two and a half ahead of the eight seed Heat.

They will be tested this week, their next two games against the Bucks and Nuggets, who sit atop the Eastern and Western conferences.

“It’ll go down to the end,” said Kenny Atkinson. “Orlando is too good. They’ll make a push. Charlotte is good. We’re improving. Miami is Miami. Especially with our schedule, we’ve got a tough schedule coming up. We expect it to be a dogfight.”

INJURY LIST

No word on when any of the Nets four walking wounded will return. Caris LeVert has now been out two and a half months and Allen Crabbe a month and half.

FOUR STARTERS ON CHARLOTTE CHARTER

With D’Angelo Russell getting word Friday that he’s playing in the All-Star Game and Joe Harris similarly selected for the three point contest Saturday, that means four of the Nets five starters will be in Charlotte. Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs had been previously selected for the Rising Star Challenge.

Last season, only one Net was invited to All Star Weekend. Spencer Dinwiddie won the Skills Contest. The year before, no on the Nets roster was invited to any of the competitions.

From zero to four in two years. We’ll take it.

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For a different perspective, head over to Orlando Pinstriped Post, our Magic sister site on SB Nation.

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OTTNO. The Nets return home to Barclays Center Monday for a game with the East’s best, the Milwaukee Bucks. It will be a rare Brooklyn-Long Island double-header. Long Island plays at 11:00 vs. the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. (You’ll need two tickets to see the two games.)