NEW ORLEANS — The Hornets’ strangely inconsistent season continued Monday night in New Orleans Arena.
In a game with more long, strange runs than a pair of cheap pantyhose, the Hornets fell to the woeful Orlando Magic 105-102 after blowing a late nine-point lead and ultimately succumbing to a huge second half.
The victory was just the third in 23 games for the Magic (17-44), who were coming off a blowout home loss to Memphis on Sunday and were 2-8 in the second of back-to-back games.
The Hornets (21-40) lost for the third time in four games and failed to get a consecutive victory playing against a struggling opponent even after they held a 17-point lead in the third quarter. The Magic outscored the Hornets 54-40 in the lane, 21-15 on second-chance points and 17-9 on fast breaks.
Coach Monty Williams disgustedly called it a “terrible” loss.
“We gave up 69 points in the second half versus a team that played (Sunday) night and had a 2½-hour flight,” he said. “That would not be good even if we had won. We couldn’t keep guys in front of us (defensively). That has plagued us all season long.”
A series of big plays — 3-pointers by point guard Greivis Vasquez and forward Ryan Anderson around a blocked shot by Anthony Davis — had given New Orleans a 97-88 lead with 3:28 left.
But the Hornets unraveled offensively, missing shots and having a huge turnover by Vasquez that resulted in a dunk by small forward Moe Harkless, and Orlando guards Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo continued getting in the lane.
The Magic took a 99-98 lead on a 3-pointer by Harrington with 1:20 left.
Orlando led 101-100 when Vasquez missed a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left. That put the Hornets in foul mode, and Afflalo, who finished with a game-high 26 points, made three free throws. When he missed the second of two with 12 seconds left, guard Tobias Harris got an offensive rebound, sealing the victory.
“Things weren’t perfect, but defensively we covered for each other, and offensively we made the right play,” said Nelson, who had missed the previous six games with a bruised left patella and knee strain. He scored 15 points but more importantly held the fort when it looked like the Magic had fallen helplessly behind in the third.
Davis, playing after missing the past two games with a sprained left shoulder, had 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Vasquez had 17 points and eight assists and Eric Gordon 17 points, 12 coming in the first half.
Orlando was still hanging close when Anderson stepped back and made a long jumper over Harris with the shot clock winding down for a 91-86 lead, setting up the flurry of plays that gave the Hornets their last margin near the end. Roger Mason had hit a straight-away 3-pointer after Orlando closed to 84-82 with 6:53 remaining.
New Orleans took a 76-70 lead into the fourth quarter after a third quarter in which it looked poised to blow the game open, only to see the Magic charge back.
The Hornets had a dominant second quarter, and they didn’t let up early in the third, scoring the first two baskets to push to 19-0 a run that started midway the second.
By the eight-minute mark, New Orleans appeared to be in complete control at 61-44 after consecutive 3-pointers by Anderson and Gordon. But after a timeout, Nelson sank a 3 and another basket and had a 22-foot bounce pass to Afflalo during a 10-2 burst, bringing Orlando within 63-54 at 5:44.
With Nelson scoring 10 points, the Magic were on a big run of their own — 22-5 — and caught the Hornets at 66 with 2:28 showing.
Anderson put an end to that with a putback, and Al-Farouq Aminu’s steal set up a three-point play by Rivers for a 71-66 lead at 1:37.
The Hornets had forged a 46-36 halftime lead on the strength of a huge run that seemed to come of nowhere.
Orlando led 36-31 at 6:26 of the quarter after a jump shot by Andrew Nicholson, prompting a timeout by Williams. Xavier Henry then sank consecutive jump shots, and Vasquez followed with a drive that resulted in a three-point play. With their defense stiffening, the Hornets were off and running.
After a miss by Afflalo, Gordon hit a 3 on the break at 2:10, and Vasquez nailed a set-shot 3 from the corner off a drive-and-dish by Gordon with 28 seconds left as the run reached 15-0, pushing the lead to 10.
The Hornets led 23-20 after the first quarter despite the Magic’s 12 points in the lane and seven second-chance points.