The Orlando Magic just keep falling short.
Despite the fact that Jacque Vaughn’s team is doing everything right, from rebounding the ball to shooting a good percentage, the Magic just can’t get that final stop down the stretch in a game or find a way to finish off their opponents. Their losing streak was extended to nine games on Monday by the red hot Portland Trailblazers, but like usual, the Magic put up a good fight.
It seems that the game just isn’t willing to reward this superstar-less team. They play a disciplined brand of basketball that involves plenty of solid ball movement. In fact, the Magic rank ninth in the league in assists despite being ranked 25th in offense. Their turnover numbers are respectable and they are shooting 45% from the field, tenth best in the league.
Over this nine game span, the Magic have fell by more than eight points just once, a Dec. 29 blowout loss in front of their home crowd against Toronto. They have lost by less than five points five times during this run of failures, so to say the least, it’s not a matter of Orlando not competing.
Since a shoulder injury sidelined Glen Davis for a month, the team has seen a number of players step up to play important roles. Josh McRoberts has served as the primary stand in despite not starting and has put in some good work for the Magic. On Monday, McRoberts scored 12 points and 8 assists in 39 minutes. But his efforts haven’t been enough to get Orlando over Davis’s absence, nor have the efforts of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic who have all significantly increased their scoring in the wake of Big Baby’s absence. In the end, it comes down to what the Magic don’t have enough of, defense.
For years, this franchise saw incredible defensive play in the paint with Dwight Howard steering the ship, but without him they lack a real punishing force in this lineup. Davis was trying to fill that void and was doing so serviceably, but now they have only Vucevic to rely on to protect the rim. The Magic currently have the 13th best defense in the league thanks purely to hustle, but it hasn’t been enough down the stretch in tight games. They allow an average of 41 points per game in the paint and are last in the league in steals.
Against Portland on Monday, the Magic ran out of gas again. After coming out of halftime with a nine point lead, it looked like they had the pieces in place to come away with a victory if they could just keep producing offensively. But the third quarter proved that idea wrong.
The Blazers shot 75% from the field in the third period as they posted 37 points on the scoreboard. The Magic did indeed maintain their own production shooting 50% and scoring 28 points, but their lead was deconstructed by their inability to stop Portland’s center J.J. Hickson from getting to the basket for easy buckets.
The Magic seemed focused on the offensive end as their ability to get easy baskets and open looks has led them to scoring 90 or more points in 8 of the 9 games that make up their current losing streak. Instead, crunch time defending has been the major issue.
On Monday night, the Magic couldn’t get a stop in the fourth quarter as LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Damien Lillard pretty much had their way with the game on the line. Lillard’s defensive error that allowed Nelson to nail the game tying three didn’t prove fatal as the Blazers stepped up their defense in the overtime period to score a couple of crucial transition baskets that made the difference.
For Vaughn and the Magic, the question has to be where is that same effort for them? They forced a mere nine turnovers in the game, a fitting stat for a team ranked last in the league at forcing turnovers at 12 per contest.
Davis is no defensive marksman, but he does bring that hustle and grit that the Orlando defense is currently struggling to find in big moments, especially around the basket. His return is still weeks away and the Magic’s hope of squeezing out an eight seed playoff appearance have all but disappeared. Truth be told, that’s okay as the team needs to hope for a high draft pick in order to acquire a piece they can really build around, but for now, all that matters is finding a bit of defense in the right moments and putting an end to this losing skid.