By John Denton
December 29, 2012
ORLANDO – Their margin for error slim even when they were winning a season-best four games in a row more than a week ago, the Orlando Magic now have more questions than answers after a series of debilitating injuries that have gutted the roster.
Already without standout power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, the Magic didn’t have point guards Jameer Nelson (sore left hip) or E’Twaun Moore (sprained left elbow) because of injuries suffered in Friday’s loss in Washington. Orlando made some inspired runs early on Saturday night, but the lack of firepower led to a somewhat predictable 123-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors before a sellout crowd of 18,846 at the Amway Center.
``Our defense has been, I want to say, Top 10 this season and we’ve had to be that way because we just don’t have a big margin for error,’’ said Magic point guard Ish Smith, who started in place of the injured Nelson. ``And when our defense slips and we don’t score as efficient as we need to, that’s when we get beat this bad.’’
Playing with a chance at getting to .500 as recently as late last week, the Magic (12-18) have now lost five games in a row. The skid is even more daunting when considering that the World Champion Miami Heat are up next for the Magic on Monday at the Amway Center (5 p.m. tipoff).
With a healthy Davis, Nelson and Moore last week, the Magic were playing their best basketball of the season and contenders to be the NBA’s surprise team of the season. But the shoulder sprain to Davis left the Magic mostly defenseless on the inside, and the loss of Nelson and Moore has badly thinned out Orlando’s perimeter threats. Ranked in the top 10 in several major defensive categories as recently as late last week, the Magic continue to struggle to string together consecutive stops. Orlando yielded more than 100 points for a second consecutive game as Toronto made 15 3-pointers, shot 56.1 percent and led by as many as 35 points in the second half. It was Toronto’s third defeat of the Magic this season.
``It was a heck of a start for (Toronto). They made shots and got a lot of confidence going early and it made it a tough, uphill battle for us the rest of the night,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``We were undermanned in the sense that guys had to play different roles and different minutes.’’
Rookie Andrew Nicholson, a native of suburban Toronto, scored a career-best 22 points in his second career start. Arron Afflalo had 14 points despite making just five of 14 shots. Smith, a first-time starter in a Magic uniform, added 13 points, four rebounds and six assists while starting in place of Nelson.
Hedo Turkoglu, back after missing eight weeks with a broken bone in his left hand, was used in a reserve role and received a warm ovation upon checking into the game with 5:08 left in the first quarter. Turkoglu suffered his hand injury in the season-opener and last played on Nov. 2. Turkoglu played 23 minutes and had eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
Turkoglu had a fastbreak dunk within seconds of getting into the game, but he looked hesitant and rusty on his drives to the hoop. He took the first significant shot on his heavily taped hand with 4:24 left in the second quarter and proceeded to miss a free throw.
``Being honest, I was nervous,’’ Turkoglu said. ``I haven’t had much time practicing with the team, so these few games are going to be about me working with the team and trying to get my conditioning back. Hopefully, I’ll start to feel better. But I was nervous today and excited to get back with my team.’’
Down 20 points at the half, the Magic got as close as 11 points in the third quarter thanks to some stellar post play from Nicholson. Making the second start of his career, Nicholson had 14 points and four rebounds in the third quarter alone. He made nine of his first 12 shots and had his career-high in points by the end of the third quarter.
``I’m just out there playing hard and doing my job and trying to make the best situation possible for the team,’’ said Nicholson, who made 10 of 14 shots and added seven rebounds.
Unable to get stops on the inside or when Toronto put up shots from distance, Orlando allowed its most points in a first quarter (36) and a first half (67) on Saturday night. The Raptors, who shot 58.1 percent in the first 24 minutes, made a staggering 10 of 14 3-pointers in the first half and led the Magic 67-47 at the break.
The Magic got off to a promising start, leading 15-11 by the first break in the action. But the Magic’s lack of firepower offensively and youth on the inside soon started showing as the Raptors pulled away.
A Raptors’ run of 25-6 put the Magic in a 36-21 hole by the end of the first quarter. Toronto shredded Orlando in the first quarter to the tune of 70 percent shooting and four 3-pointers.
Afflalo said that the Magic will turn things around when their defense becomes stout again. Turnovers were an issue in the first two losses of the losing streak (to Toronto and Utah), but a lack of cohesive defense was the culprit in the last three defeats.
``We have to do our best to get back to the basic defensive principles to give us some kind of stability,’’ Afflalo said. ``Defensively, you’ve got to build habits and right now we’re in a bad habit of not executing team-wise. We have to stick with the game plans that we come with. You have to be focused defensively and you can’t even be thinking about offense. Trying to win the game offensively or thinking we can catch up by hitting shots, if we don’t get the defensive stops it’s just a wash. We have to get stops and we didn’t do that tonight.’’
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