By John Denton
January 2, 2013
ORLANDO – It’s not just the losing that is infuriating the Orlando Magic now, but the frustrating and haunting fashion that the narrow defeats continue to pile up one on top of another.
Wednesday was another case study in agony as the Magic surged to within two points of the Chicago Bulls in the closing minute, missed a shot that could have tied the game and ultimately lost 96-94 before a sellout crowd of 18,846 at the Amway Center.
For Orlando (12-20), it was the seventh consecutive loss – all coming since power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis went out with a shoulder injury. But what makes the skid even more frustrating is the fact that five of the seven defeats have been by four points or less. Add Wednesday’s two-point loss to Chicago (17-13) to Monday’s two-point overtime defeat against Miami and the Magic are beside themselves right now with what-if scenarios and disappointment.
``Anytime you lose like this, it’s frustrating,’’ said Magic guard J.J. Redick, who had the play to tie drawn up for him, but he was unable to get the ball because of the defensive coverage. ``We want to win some of these games.’’
During the losing streak, the Magic have lost by three points to Toronto, four points to Utah, three points against New Orleans, two points in overtime to the Heat and now two points against Chicago. Prior to this rough patch, Orlando was 2-0 in games decided by five points or less. But they can’t seem to find a way now to pull out a victory at the end of tight games.
``This is a great experience for us. The best part about tonight was that there was a stretch in the game where Chicago could’ve broke our spirits and we stayed together,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``I think for the most part we stayed poised, fought adversity and gave ourselves a chance to win that ball game. I feel bad for my guys. They’re playing hard, but they’re just not equating to wins yet. But we’re going to continue to play hard.’’
Jameer Nelson, who missed the past two games with a hip injury, returned Wednesday night and equaled his career high with 32 points. Nelson was supposed to get the ball to Redick in the final 10 seconds for a shot to tie, but when the shooting guard was covered Nelson had to heave an off-balanced bank shot that rimmed out.
Two free throws iced the game, leaving Nelson to finish off the game with a meaningless layup at the horn.
``We just have to figure it out and we have to stick together. We’re winning together and we’re losing together,’’ said Nelson, who made 11 of 20 shots, six of nine 3-pointers and all four of his free throws. ``It’s a tough stretch for us right now, but as long as we stay together and continue to work, I have faith that we’ll get out of this. We just have to clean some things up and maybe it will turn around for us.’’
Of issue with the Magic now is their lack of interior defense since Davis went down with a dislocated shoulder that is expected to keep him out at least another two weeks. Carlos Boozer (31 points and 11 rebounds), Taj Gibson (21 points and 11 boards) and Luol Deng (23 points and three rebounds) battered the Magic inside all night long. That group helped the Bulls score 42 points in the paint.
``At the end of the day, it’s a physical game and you have to meet your opponents’ physicality head on and try to be more physical than they are,’’ Vaughn said. ``It’s as simple as what you see on free throw box outs. It’s just a physical game, that’s it.’’
Two nights after setting a new franchise record with 29 rebounds against Miami, Magic center Nikola Vucevic had 20 points and 12 rebounds. The 20 points matched his personal high – which was also set in Monday’s narrow loss to the Heat.
Vucevic had five more offensive rebounds, giving him 16 in the last two games. With 5:25 to play, he twice followed up shots and his layup drew the Magic to within 86-84. That deficit ballooned back to 10 before 3-pointers from Redick (3 of 12 shooting, seven points) and Arron Afflalo (19 points) and a dunk by Vucevic drew Orlando back to within two points of the lead.
Reserve forward Jash McRoberts gave the Magic a chance to tie by swatting Kirk Hinrich’s layup attempt with 25 seconds to play. Nelson had one shot attempt blocked out of bounds and the second try hit hard off the glass, sealing the fate of the Magic.
``I had a good look. I got bumped, but I didn’t get the call,’’ Nelson said. ``But I just missed the shot.’’
The Magic will practice Thursday and Friday before hosting the New York Knicks on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Magic will then depart on Sunday for a four-game, nine-day with games against Portland, Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Washington Wizards.
Nelson did his best to get the Magic back in it by scoring 15 points in the third quarter alone. Nelson made nine of his first 14 shots and hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter against Nate Robinson. Nelson’s work allowed the Magic to cut an 18-point deficit to 11 by the start of the fourth quarter.
Orlando trailed 54-46 at the half, something that had to be disappointing considering that it led by as much as nine points in the first three minutes of the game. Chicago’s frontline of Boozer, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng combined to score 37 of Chicago’s 54 points in the first half against a Magic team that has continue to have trouble with interior defense since losing Davis to a shoulder injury.
Nelson looked aggressive from the start, scoring Orlando’s first five points and contributing 10 points in the first half. Afflalo, who has averaged 21 points over the last six games, had another 11 points in the first half by relentlessly attacking Deng. Nelson said he is confident that the Magic will soon shake their losing streak because of the fight that the team continues to play with. Other than a lopsided loss to Toronto last Saturday, the Magic have been in every game. Eventually, Nelson said, the Magic will prevail with a win that could set them up to string together a winning streak to follow this losing skid.
``Nobody should hang their heads because it’s not like we’re not going out there and playing hard,’’ Nelson said. ``When you get more frustrated that’s when you start pointing the finger and one thing that we’re not doing is pointing the finger. We’re in this together.’’
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