Magic Play With Effort and Cohesion in Loss to Blazers

Arron Afflalo

By John Denton
Jan. 8, 2014

PORTLAND – Collectively, the Orlando Magic were fed up with the malaise and frustrated feelings surrounding the team for some time now. On Wednesday night they vowed to do something about it.

Whether they won or not, Magic players vowed to a man that they would play and look like a different sort of team against powerful Portland. After all, they were coming off an unsightly 20-point loss that once included a 35-point deficit.

The Magic were true to their words on Wednesday, playing with the kind of energy and cohesion that had been missing just two nights earlier. They shared the ball, fought on the boards to make up for the absence of starting center Nikola Vucevic and pushed Portland to the limit. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough as the Blazers found the range on their 3-point shots in the fourth quarter just as Orlando was going cold in a 110-92 Magic loss at Portland’s Moda Center.

``I tell our guys that we don’t know the outcome of a game – we really don’t – but what we can control is how hard we can play,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``On most nights we give an effort like this and we’ll put ourselves in position to win ball games.’’

For the Magic (10-25), it was their fifth consecutive loss and 11th straight against a team from the rugged Western Conference. But before Orlando was outscored 39-19 in the game-changing fourth quarter, there were plenty of positives to build upon.

Orlando once led Portland (27-9) by 12 points in the first half and it gamely hung tough in the third quarter to take a four-point lead into the final period. But in the end, it was too much LaMarcus Aldridge (36 points on 16 of 25 shooting) and Portland 3-pointers (nine) for the Magic to withstand in the furious fourth quarter.

``The last game was tough on us in terms of not competing at a high level and we put ourselves in a position tonight to win the game and at least compete,’’ said Orlando’s Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, who had to play out of position at center. ``I’m proud of our guys for doing that.’’

Arron Afflalo had 22 points, but 18 of those came in the first half. Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson played inspired basketball with 17 points and 10 assists. Rookie Victor Oladipo chipped in 14 points, while Davis scored 16 despite a poor shooting night.

Orlando was outrebounded 47-42 without Vucevic.

``Effort is mandatory and you don’t feel good about that,’’ Afflalo said. ``That’s how you’re supposed to play the game. I thought our intensity was good in the first half, but we just got off course in the second half. We have to continue to do the right things and do things the right way for 48 minutes. We have to do whatever it takes to get a win, but give (the Blazers) credit too because they played well in the fourth quarter.’’

The Magic were again without Vucevic, this time with a concussion suffered on Monday in Los Angeles. He landed head-first onto the floor after getting his legs knocked out from under him by Clippers’ power forward Blake Griffin. It is Vucevic’s second concussion since last March. The Magic will send Vucevic home on Thursday so that he can rest and recover from the concussion in his home in Orlando.

The loss of Vucevic was troubling for the Magic considering how they have fared this season without their 7-footer in the middle. Orlando came into Wednesday 0-6 this season when Vucevic was out injured. And in the three games he left with injuries, Orlando scored just 80, 81 and 81 points.

Davis, who chipped in six rebounds, did his best filling in for Vucevic despite giving away at least three inches to Aldridge in the post.

``It’s nothing that I’m not used to,’’ Davis said. ``You have to play the game; that’s your job. Wherever they put you, you’ve just got to play. I’m just doing what I can out there.’’

Orlando didn’t have a field goal for nearly the first five minutes of the fourth period, allowing Portland to take an 85-80 lead. Wesley Matthews had 17 points for the Blazers, 10 of them coming in the fourth quarter.

Wednesday’s game was the second of a five-game road trip that will span over 10 days. Orlando will have a difficult set of back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday in Sacramento and Denver. The trip ends Monday in Dallas against the Mavericks.

Up six at the half, Orlando had to withstand an emotional punch from the Blazers to open the third period. But telling of what kind of fight the magic would play with all night, Orlando came right back with eight straight points. The Magic would answer each Portland spurt and they took a 75-71 lead into the fourth quarter.

Orlando played some inspired and gritty basketball in the first half and as a result led the Blazers 51-45 at the intermission. The Magic didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but they fought their way to even on the glass and they shared the ball beautifully.

Vaughn’s decision to go to a three-guard lineup in Vucevic’s absence worked out brilliantly in the first half. Oladipo had a stretch last month where he made 16 straight starts, but he had been out of the starting lineup for almost three weeks before Wednesday’s nod.

Afflalo was at his efficient best by making six of seven shots, both of his 3-pointers and four of five free throws for an 18-point first-half performance.

Nelson ran the team well and hurt Portland early on with his scoring (nine points) and decision-making (six assists). And Oladipo gave the Magic a much-needed boost of energy and athleticism by getting to the rim twice and scoring seven first-half points.

``We came out with a lot of energy, we were focused and we were well-prepared,’’ Nelson said. ``We executed the game plan, but they are a good team. There’s a reason why (the Blazers rallied). We made a couple of mistakes late and it hurt us. We also missed some shots, but you give them credit.’’

Shockingly to the raucous crowd at the Moda Center, Orlando clawed back from an early eight-point hole and led by as many as 12 points in the first half. Orlando’s lead might have been even larger had it been able to figure out a way to at least somewhat slow down Aldridge, who pumped in 21 first-half points on nine of 15 shooting. More impactful, he drew three first-half fouls on Orlando’s Davis.

Vaughn things there was plenty of good things to come out of Wednesday and vowed that one down quarter would not overshadow three good ones.

``That’s a good ball club over there – that’s what changed (in the fourth quarter),’’ Vaughn said. ``But I’m proud of my guys because we fought hard tonight. We fought the entire game. We’re short-handed and guys really pulled for one another.’’