The Charlotte Hornets have figured out how to play two to three quarters of good NBA basketball.
The missing final quarter continues to haunt them.
For the second time in this young season, the Hornets gave up a 23-point lead and with it a victory as the Orlando Magic took a 105-100 come-from-behind win Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The loss is the fourth consecutive for the Hornets (4-9) and continued what has been a disturbing trend.
“We play two or three quarters of great basketball then a bad quarter – and it’s not always the fourth quarter, but it’s always a quarter,” said Hornets guard Gary Neal, who returned to action after missing two games with a concussion.
“We’ve got to try to correct that so we can play a great 48 minutes. Right now, we’re playing 40 or 42. Those six minutes are costing us.”
They certainly did Friday night.
The Hornets held Orlando to 14 second-quarter points as they built a 51-40 advantage at halftime while shooting 52.5 percent from the field.
Charlotte’s defense was just as strong as its offense, holding Orlando to 37.8 shooting and the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team to no long-range shots.
The Hornets appeared well on their way to an easy victory as they rolled out to a 23-point lead with six minutes 41 seconds left in the third quarter, going up 70-47 on a layup by Lance Stephenson.
The Magic cut the deficit to 15 to start the fourth and continued its roll in the fourth, outscoring Charlotte 41-21 in the period while shooting 71.4 percent from the field.
“We went from having a big cushion of more than 20 and playing very organized and disciplined on both ends of the floor to playing sloppy,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford.
The Magic (6-8) took the lead for the first time in the second half, 97-95, on a jumper by Elfrid Payton with 1:30 left to go in the game. Payton, who finished with a career-best-tying 16 points, was the Magic’s offensive catalyst in the fourth quarter.
Al Jefferson’s two free throws tied the game at 97 and it appeared the Hornets had forced a defensive stop on the other end to get the ball back. However, a review of the play resulted in the ball going back to the Magic.
Payton missed two free throws for Orlando but Willie Green got past Kemba Walker, grabbed the offensive rebound and scored, giving the Magic a lead it would not relinquish.
“It got away from us because we stopped doing what we did to get the lead,” said Jefferson, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, his third double-double of the season. “We just relaxed. We didn’t respond.”
Asked why he thought the Hornets continue to have problems giving up big leads, Jefferson shook his head slightly and said, “I have no idea.”