DALLAS — Similar scripts have been written so many times about the Orlando Magic this season.
An awful start.
A second- and third-quarter comeback.
A fourth-quarter meltdown.
And an injury to a key player.
It happened again Wednesday night. The Dallas Mavericks outclassed the Magic in the first and fourth quarters en route to a 111-96 win at American Airlines Center, and making matters worse, point guard Jameer Nelson felt his left knee give out with 4:49 to go.
“I think it should be OK just by the way it’s feeling,” Nelson said. “I don’t want to make an assessment on it right now without getting fully evaluated by the doctors and getting all the MRIs and all that stuff I have to get probably. Hopefully, it’s not too serious and I can move forward.”
The Magic now have lost 26 of their last 29 games and face the possibility that their roster will look dramatically different before the NBA trade deadline expires at 3 p.m. Thursday.
J.J. Redick left American Airlines Center not knowing whether team officials will keep him the rest of the season or send him to a contender.
“Look,” he said, “if any player is in this situation and they’re on a team that’s one of the five or six teams in the league that have one of the worst records and they go to a contender, it’s not a bad thing.
“If I were to stay here, though, it’d be great.”
If Wednesday’s game marked the end of Redick’s seven-year Magic tenure, he’d leave on a low note. He scored 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, and he also played a starring role in the game’s turning point.
With Orlando ahead 79-73 late in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks sapped the Magic's momentum.
O.J. Mayo blocked a fastbreak layup attempt by Redick. A few seconds later, Mayo tossed a perfect alley-oop pass to a skying Vince Carter for an emphatic dunk.
“It’s as good a hustle sequence as we’ve had all year,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I thought the timing of it couldn’t have been more key in the game.”
Redick missed a 3 on Orlando's ensuing possession, and Carter followed immediately with a 3 of his own.
After Nelson missed a long-range jumper, Darren Collison drew a shooting foul on Redick and converted both free throws.
There, in the span of 46 seconds, Dallas had taken an 80-79 lead.
“An unbelievable momentum shift,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said.
In the fourth quarter, Dallas scored 17 consecutive points to take control of the game.
Orlando’s defeat cancelled out a strong performance from rookie small forward Maurice Harkless, who scored a career-high 20 points and added eight rebounds.
Vaughn had felt excited as tipoff approached.
The night before, back in Central Florida, Nelson and Arron Afflalo spoke up at halftime to implore their teammates to play better defense. Their impassioned words worked. After a first half in which they gave up 63 points to the hapless Charlotte Bobcats, they allowed just 42 points in the second half.
Vaughn hoped there would be a carryover into the game against Dallas.
There wasn’t. At least not at first.
The Mavericks started the game by scoring 42 points in the first quarter on 64.0 percent shooting — the second night in a row the Magic had given up a season-high point total in a game's opening period.
Everyone on the Dallas roster had an easy time scoring, from former league MVP Dirk Nowitzki to journeyman guard Mike James to aging power forward Elton Brand.
But Dallas (24-29) slowed in the second quarter.
After the Mavericks took a 48-32 lead on a fadeaway by Nowitzki, the Magic closed the quarter on a 21-11 run.
The Mavs hit just 23.8 percent of their shots in the period, and Nowitzki was the only player on his team to make more than one basket.
Had the Orlando defense suddenly played with some passion? Or had the Dallas offense lost its energy? Probably a mixture of both.
The Magic (15-39) kept up their momentum late into the third quarter, but Mayo’s hustle play set the tone for what followed.
And, now, the Magic await the trade deadline and word about Nelson’s knee.
Both are unwelcome additions to a script that’s all too familiar.