By John Denton
November 18, 2012

TORONTO – Coming into Sunday afternoon’s game, the Orlando Magic seemed to have all of the advantages what with them winning in emotional fashion two days earlier and the slumping Toronto Raptors faced with a difficult road-to-home back-to-back set of games.

But conventional wisdom took one on the chin on Sunday when it was the Raptors – and not the Magic – who had more energy and execution both at the start of the game and down the stretch in a head-scratcher of a loss for Orlando.

Up one with 9:26 to play on Sunday after digging out of a 13-point hole, the Magic inexplicably went cold offensively, suffered through a long fourth-quarter drought and was unable to stop journeyman center Amir Johnson. Ultimately, the Raptors pulled away from the Magic late for a 97-86 victory at the Air Canada Centre.

``It started more so at the tip of the game today,’’ said Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, who was clearly frustrated by his team’s missing intensity. ``We needed a better focus and concentration level from the first play of the game. … We had to play comeback basketball and when that happens you have to speed yourself up and sometimes you have turnovers and you don’t have the focus on defense. It all works hand-in-hand.’’

The defeat was a downer for the Magic (3-6), who lost after coming through time and again in the clutch on Friday in a victory in Detroit. This time, however, the Magic made just five of 19 shots in the fourth quarter while turning the ball over five times in the final 12 minutes.

The Magic also allowed Toronto (3-7) to win for the first time all season when trailing after three quarters. DerMar DeRozan had 20 points, Jose Calderon picked Orlando’s defense apart with 18 assists and Andrea Bargnani chipped in 17 points.

But it was the 15 points from Johnson, who came into the game averaging 7.3 points a game, that doomed the Magic. Johnson scored 14 of his 15 points in the final period when Toronto made 12 of 22 shots.

``There’s really no better explanation than we have to play better defense,’’ said Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who had 15 points. ``We played good defense in the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter we didn’t play good defense. When we’re offensive-minded as a team and not focused defensively we usually go down.’’

Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis had 16 points and 12 rebounds despite a poor start to the game. E’Twaun Moore scored 16 off the bench, but veteran point guard Jameer Nelson finished with just eight points after missing 10 of his 13 shots.

``I don’t know why we have to get down to get it going,’’ Davis said. ``We’ve got to find a way. Somebody has to step up. We either have to step up the tempo defensively or one of our players has to get us going. I have to play better at the beginning of games and find a way to motivate my teammates.’’

The Magic suffered a huge blow when shooting guard J.J. Redick was unable to play because of an illness. Redick, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer on Friday, is second on the team in scoring (15.8 ppg.) and assists (5.5 apg.). Redick is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor and 39.4 percent from 3-point range. His availability for Monday will be determined by his recovery from the illness.

The Magic close their three-game roadtrip Monday night in Atlanta against the Hawks. Orlando hosts the same Detroit Pistons team that it beat 110-106 two days ago on Wednesday at the Amway Center. It’s the start of a five-game homestand for the Magic.

``(Not having Redick) affected our scoring, ball movement and leadership,’’ Vaughn said. ``We didn’t know if we were going to have (Redick) or not. He was feeling sick and the decision was made to not play him and see how he feels (on Monday).’’

Magic rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson, a Toronto native, played in front of his family and dozens of college and high school friends. He had eight points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.

The Magic held a 72-71 lead with 9:26 to play, but a series of bad offensive possessions seemed to knock the team out of rhythm. Toronto capitalized with a 12-4 run to surge into the lead. Included in that run was a 3-pointer by center Amir Johnson, just the fifth of his eight-year NBA career.

The Magic melted down in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter, missing nine of 12 shots and turning the ball over four times. That dry spell allowed the Raptors to pull ahead 89-78. Runs of 12-4 and 6-0 did in the Magic.

``I was disappointed that we had to be fighting back just to get the lead, so I was more focused on that (lack of energy early on),’’ Vaughn said.

After digging itself an early hole, Orlando got within 40-35 late in the second quarter and 53-52, 59-56 and 64-63 in the third quarter, but couldn’t push into the lead. But Orlando finally did just that when Nelson found his stroke at the end of the third quarter. After missing his first eight tries, Nelson converted on three baskets in a row to lift the Magic to a 69-67 lead by the start of the fourth quarter.

Orlando trailed 49-41 at the half after falling behind by as much as 13 early on. The Magic sputtered offensively early on and allowed the Raptors to play with more energy even though Toronto was playing on the second day of a back-to-back set of games.

For a second straight game since returning from a groin injury, Nelson failed to make a shot in the first half. He missed all five tries – three of which were on 3-point shots when he was left open. The Magic missed seven of nine 3-pointers in the first half and got only 25 points from the starting lineup.

``We just were not focused defensively at the beginning of the game. It’s that simple,’’ Afflalo said. ``We were thinking about points and whatever we were thinking about instead of stops. Winning teams think about stops and that’s it.’’

Finding offense was a struggle early on for the Magic without the services of Redick. Rookie DeQuan Jones got the start in place of Redick, but did not attempt a shot in the first quarter. Only three Magic players – Afflalo, Vucevic and E’Twaun Moore – scored in the first quarter as the Magic fell behind by as many as 13 points in the early going.

``We have to know what we’re doing out there. We had a good defensive strategy, but we didn’t execute it well enough,’’ Davis said. ``The communication mix-ups messed us up. When we’re told what to do we have to do it no matter what.’’

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