Denton's Dish: The 5th Quarter (3/2/14)

By John Denton
March 2, 2014

ORLANDO – Here are five takeaways from the Orlando Magic’s 92-81 defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night at the Amway Center:

KEY STAT OF THE GAME: The major significance to come out of Sunday night for the Magic was them evening their home record at 15-15 for the season. That’s important because Orlando was once 8-14 at home, but it has now ripped off seven wins in the last eight games at the Amway Center over the past five weeks. The only loss during that stretch – one that includes impressive victories against Oklahoma City and Indiana – was to the rugged Memphis Grizzlies and Orlando had the lead in the final minute of that game.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn made performing better at home this season a point of emphasis on the first day of training camp. He felt that it would be an important step for his young team if it could learn to better defend its home court this season. The Magic have responded accordingly so, playing some of its best basketball over the last month.

``We’ll take anything that we can get at this point,’’ Magic reserve center Kyle O’Quinn said of the .500 record at home. ``There are 20 games left and we want to take the good and keep building on it. Next year, we want to have an overall record at .500 or better, but we’ll take this (home record) and build upon it.’’

MAGIC MAN OF THE NIGHT: Playing without leading scorer Arron Afflalo and veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, the Magic needed some scoring punch from someone else on the roster Sunday night. Further complicating matters, Orlando played a night earlier in Miami and came into Sunday a road-weary team from having played six of the last seven on the road.

The Magic got the spark they needed from forward Tobias Harris, who was locked in and aggressive throughout the game. He scored a career-best 31 points by repeatedly attacking the rim and refusing to let the smallish Sixers off the hook with jump shots. Of Harris’ 11 field goals, seven of them came right at the rim. In all, Harris took 11 shots from point-blank range on Sunday night.

Harris had a moment of tension late in the game when he went to the free throw line with 14.1 seconds to play. He needed to make both free throws in order to register a career high and top the 30 points he’s scored twice previously.

``I wasn’t sweating it,’’ Harris said with a laugh. ``Either way, I use (the pressure free throws) as preparation. Any shot that I take, I want to make. So I just wanted to make those shots.’’

Harris, who has worked hard to improve his free throw form, made all nine of his free throws on Sunday and all seven of his free throws Saturday in Miami. In his past six games, he’s made 35 of 27 free throw attempts.

Added Harris, now an 81.7 percent free throw shooter: ``I’ve been working on it a lot. Before every game I try to make 10 free throws in a row just to get my mind going and get my focus. During the game I just try to incorporate that same type of focus at the free throw line and just be consistent.’’

KEY STAT, PART II: Philadelphia is in the midst of its longest losing streak since February/March of 1994 with 14 straight defeats. But the gutted Sixers aren’t just losing; they are getting shredded on a nightly basis.

Of the 14 losses, 11 have been by double-digits. During this skid, they have lost by an average of 16.8 points a night. Included in the skid are losses of 45 and 43 points against the Clippers and Warriors.

QUOTABLE: When Orlando snapped its 16-game road losing streak in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Harris called it a must-win. On Sunday, Harris said the same sort of mindset was in play because the Magic can’t afford to lose winnable games, especially ones against reeling teams like the Sixers.

``We knew as a team that this is a game that we had to win,’’ Harris said. ``We lost in Miami and I thought we played a pretty good game. It was a tough game mentally-wise for both teams because they played (on Saturday), too. Mentally we had to get ourselves ready before the game and then withstand it throughout the game.’’

SIMILAR STRUGGLES: With a roster loaded full of young players, the Sixers knew they were in for a long season of rebuilding. And the squad got even younger at the trade deadline when they traded Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes and bought out the contract of veteran forward Danny Granger.

First-year coach Brett Brown, who once worked with Vaughn in San Antonio, has echoed many of the thoughts of those in the Orlando organization about incremental growth and celebrating small victories along the way.

``Our road map this year was not going to be judged in the win/loss column. It’s one of these rare years where I can confidently say that. That’s a strange line coming from a coach,’’ Brown said. ``We’ve pounded into our guys that it’s about development, it’s about a standard, it’s about habits, it’s about not cutting corners to help build a program. Those are our measurements; they're different from others. (Michael Carter-Williams) has followed through; I think the whole group has followed through in what could otherwise be a very difficult year.’’