TORONTO, Feb. 27 (Ticker) --
While Tracy McGrady's
presence is clearly a key for the Orlando Magic, Vince Carter's
return from injury has failed to solve the problems of the Toronto Raptors.
McGrady had 24 points and eight assists and Darrell Armstrong
scored all seven of his points in the final 3 1/2 minutes as the Magic closed with an 11-0 run and rallied for a 90-85 victory over the struggling Raptors.
Orlando has won five of its last six games, with its only loss during the stretch coming at Cleveland on Sunday, when McGrady sat out with a sore right foot. Toronto was winless in seven games while Carter -- a distant cousin of McGrady's -- sat out with strained quadricep, but his return had not stopped the skid.
The Raptors have lost nine straight games, their longest slide since dropping 13 in a row from March 30-April 12, 1998. They have also lost six straight home games and were embarrassed by the Magic on their home floor down the stretch.
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Vince Carter's team-high 22 points on 50 percent shooting weren't enough to help Toronto.
"Itís unfortunate because we want to win and were not out there lying down," Carter said. "We donít have our heads down because we know where we can be. We were third or fourth in our conference, so this is tough to swallow. Itís back to the drawing board."
Toronto had an 85-79 lead with under five minutes left but did not score thereafter, missing its final 10 shots.
"Our defense was huge, especially in the fourth, we did a good job of stepping up our defense," Orlando forward Mike Miller
said. "It seemed like we could never get over the hump until the last two or three minutes. Anytime you can win on the road it is big and every game in the East is big."
McGrady sparked the game-ending run with a runner before Armstrong drained a 3-pointer, his first points of the game, to bring Orlando within 85-84 with 3:13 remaining.
missed a jumper for Toronto, but blocked Miller's layup out of bounds at the other end with three seconds left on the shot clock.
McGrady inbounded the ball from behind the basket and passed to Horace Grant, who had a wide-open layup after setting a screen for Armstrong. The Raptors' defensive miscue gave the Magic the lead for good, 86-85.
"(We) have to learn how to execute not on offense, but on defense," Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens. "When a guy pops out that open on an inbounds, itís ridiculous."
"It was my mistake when Horace Grant
got that lay-in out of bounds from underneath," Raptors forward Keon Clark
said. "It's things like that that are killing us because we were in this game. When it comes to close games like this, you can't have any breakdowns. Weíll find a remedy somehow."
Carter and Clark each missed a shot on Toronto's final two possessions before Armstrong sank a pair of free throws with 15 seconds to go.
launched an airball from 3-point range on Toronto's next possession and Armstrong sealed the win with two more free throws with seven seconds to play.
"We wanted to get the ball to Vince, but Mo was forced to take the shot," Wilkens said. "Iím frustrated because we have covered the things that happened on the floor. We just didnít get the job done. We're struggling but they are professional and they have to find a way to win."
Grant scored 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. Miller scored 12 points and Pat Garrity
added 10 and nine rebounds as Orlando improved to 2-1 on a season-high seven-game road trip.
"We're playing really well, were coming into (the opponent's) arena, and we're focusing," McGrady said. "We're knowing our game plan and playing hard for 48 minutes."
Orlando shot 50 percent (34-of-68) and limited Toronto to just 39 percent (35-of-91), including 3-of-12 from 3-point range.
"For a team not known for its defense, we played great D tonight," Orlando coach Doc Rivers said. "Our goal was to get Vince into foul trouble and by doing that we kept him off the court, which took away their primary shooter."
Carter scored 22 points before fouling out with seven seconds left. Clark collected 19 and nine rebounds and Antonio Davis
contributed 16 and 10 as the Raptors fell to 0-4 on a six-game homestand.