By John Denton
December 21, 2012
TORONTO – With nearly their full complement of players available, the Orlando Magic had started playing their best basketball of the season by sharing the ball, shutting down foes and exhibiting great chemistry.
But take out one piece of that mix – albeit a very big one considering that it’s injured power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis – and the rhythm and effectiveness that the Magic played with the past week suddenly disappeared.
Orlando handled the loss of Davis well at times on Friday night, but they turned the ball over 18 times, failed to get several critical stops and missed a chance to tie in the final seconds of a 93-90 loss to the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.
``Guys filled the void, at least defensively, but when you are missing one of your leading scorers, that makes it tough,’’ Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo said. ``You want to continue to win, but a big part of our successful rhythm came with the guys who were contributing toward that success. You take Glen out of that and it hurts because he’s a key contributor."
For the Magic (12-14), the saw their season-best four-game winning streak come to an end. Orlando also missed out on a chance to get to .500 for the first time since they were 2-2 in early November.
``I don’t think we played badly, but we just made some mistakes,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``The turnovers hurt us. We limit the turnovers and do some things better we have a chance to win that game.’’
The Magic were playing their first game without Davis, who severely sprained his left shoulder late in Orlando’s defeat of Washington on Wednesday and could miss a month or more of action. Davis has had an otherwise stellar season, averaging career highs in minutes (33), points (16), rebounds (7.9) and assists (1.8).
Down 11 points with 4 minutes to play, the Magic made a furious fourth-quarter run to get within 91-90 on a deep 3-pointer by Nelson. But the Magic failed to secure a rebound on the following possession and Toronto’s Amir Johnson converted two free throws to put the Raptors back ahead by three points.
From there, J.J. Redick and Gustavo Ayon botched a difficult drive-and-dish play. Orlando did get another chance to tie in the closing seconds, but Redick missed a 27-foot 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining. Orlando got the rebound, but Nelson lost the ball out of bounds as the final buzzer sounded.
``We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end by just continuing to play,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``We were trying to be aggressive and we did some different things trying to get to the bucket and (the Raptors) did a good job of trapping our pick-and-roll at times. We had a few too many turnovers, but we had some good looks at the same time.’’
Afflalo led the Magic with 26 points, while center Nikola Vucevic chipped in 16 points and 12 rebounds. E’Twaun Moore and Ayon added 12 points each off the bench. Ayon added a season-best 13 rebounds.
The Magic led 2-0 in the game’s opening minute and never went ahead again against a Toronto team that has now won five games in a row.
``Injuries are a part of the game and there are no excuses,’’ Afflalo said. ``This game was winnable for us if we limited our turnovers a little bit and played a little smarter. We’ll have to continue to address this as any team would have to when they lose a key player.’’
Magic rookie Andrew Nicholson (six points on three of 10 shooting) got the first start of his NBA career in place of the injured Davis. What had to have made the start even more special is that Nicholson hails from the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, and he had about a dozen family and friends at the game.
By starting Nicholson and Maurice Harkless, it gave the Magic two rookies in the starting lineup – something that Vaughn said wouldn’t factor into his thinking at all. But it was significant because it’s the first time since April 20, 2005 that the Magic had two rookies in the starting lineup, according to Elias. That night, it was Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson in the starting five for Orlando.
``We started ‘Drew and had some good things from the minutes that he gave us,’’ Vaughn said. ``We used a small-ball lineup, which was good for us at certain points in the game. And the bigs who played had a good night. (Ayon) was great. He was physical for us on pick-and-roll coverage, rebounding the ball and setting screens. He did all of the things that we’ll continue to ask him to do.’’
The Magic are off on Saturday and will host the Utah Jazz on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Amway Center. Utah beat the Magic 87-81 on Dec. 5 in Salt Lake City.
Friday’s game was a chance at revenge for the Magic after losing in Toronto 97-86 on Nov. 18. The star of that game, Toronto’s Johnson, showed up at the Air Canada Center on Friday with a painted red Raptors logo carved into the back of his hair.
Down three points at the half, the Magic made several runs at the lead throughout the third quarter, but they could never string together enough stops to take the lead. And when turnovers became a major issue late in the third period, Toronto extended its lead out to 71-62 by the start of the fourth quarter. Orlando had 15 turnovers in the first three quarters.
Toronto, which was already playing without starters Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry, suffered another blow in the first quarter when rookie center Jonas Valanciunas broke the ring finger on his right hand. Nicholson accidentally stepped on Valanciunas’s hand during a scrum for a loose ball.
Orlando trailed 42-39 at the half thanks to their defense. The Magic, which entered the game sixth in the NBA in points allowed per game (94.24) and tied for eighth in field goal percentage allowed (43.7 percent), held the Raptors to 14 of 44 shooting (31.8 percent) in the first half.
Vaughn started Nicholson, but also used Gustavo Ayon and Josh McRoberts at power forward to replace Davis. Ayon had seven points, seven rebounds and a breakaway dunk in the first half.
Vaughn said it might be a process for the Magic to get used to playing without Davis. Friday was the first step in that process and he hopes the team will be better come Sunday.
``You have to get used to not having (Davis) on the court,’’ Vaughn said. ``You are used to turning over, seeing him and being able to throw him the ball at different avenues of the game. We’ll continue to adjust without him and see what the game gives us.’’
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