Postgame Report: Magic vs. Suns (3/19/14)

Victor Oladipo

By John Denton
March 19, 2014

PHOENIX – Playing on the second night of a back-to-back and without their injured point guard and their ejected center, the Orlando Magic got a stern challenge from Jacque Vaughn on Wednesday night.

The usually mild-mannered head coach refused to let his team use fatigue or personnel excuses to mentally or physically check out of the game against the surprising Phoenix Suns. Vaughn demanded that Orlando’s players either play hard or not play at all.

The tactics worked well most of Wednesday as Orlando not only hung with Phoenix, but led the Suns by one with 90 seconds left in the third period. However, the Magic’s offensive shortcomings without Jameer Nelson’s playmaking and Nikola Vucevic’s post play caught up with them in a disastrous fourth quarter, leading to a wholly unfulfilling 109-93 loss in Phoenix.

``We should never use excuses to begin with. That’s how it’s got to be,’’ Magic forward Tobias Harris said, refusing to blame the loss on not having two starters. ``If we’re not going to come to work and play hard, you are hurting your teammates and your team. We’re not going to win blaming excuses.’’

Orlando (19-50) inexplicably saw a 75-74 lead turn into a 101-82 deficit with a decisive 27-5 run by the speedy Suns (39-29). That hope-crushing run came a night after the Magic yielded 18 straight points in a lopsided loss to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland.

``It’s the ability to sustain, sustaining the same mindframe throughout the course of the game,’’ Vaughn said. ``That gets you through the ups and downs of a game. You have to be able to sustain your energy and be locked in for every possession.’’

The Magic lost for a seventh straight time and have been unable to equal last season’s win total of 20 for more than two weeks now. Also, they continued to be road kill away from Orlando, losing for a 21st time in the past 22 away games. They are a NBA-worst 4-32 on the road and they are winless outside of Orlando against Western Conference foes (0-13).

Veteran guard Arron Afflalo scored 20 points and had a clutch four-point play in the third quarter to pull Orlando even with Phoenix. Harris carried some of the offensive load with 23 points off the bench, while rookie guard Victor Oladipo chipped in 14 points and nine assists – most of it coming in the first half.

The Magic lost Vucevic late in the second quarter when he uncharacteristically picked up two technical fouls and was ejected from the game. The bizarre sequence started with Channing Frye blocking Vucevic’s shot and the Magic center complained on the next stoppage to earn his first technical foul.

Then, 75 seconds later, Vucevic made a move into the lane only to collide with Chandler, who comically flopped to the floor. Referee Mark Lindsay took the bait and whistled Vucevic for an offensive foul. The usually mild-mannered and placid Vucevic then flipped the ball back toward Frye to illicit and immediate ejection from the game with Orlando trailing 20-19. Vucevic had eight points and three rebounds in nine minutes.

``I let my frustrations effect me a little bit and I have to learn from it next time,’’ Vucevic said. ``I have to keep playing and know that everybody makes mistakes. Next time, I have to be smarter about it. I just feel really bad because I let my team down.’’

Phoenix standout Goran Dragic gashed the Magic with 18 points and six assists, while Gerald Green added 14 points and four 3-pointers off the bench.

The Magic’s seven-day, four-game game road trip will stop for a two-day respite before they hit the floor again. Orlando plays in Utah on Saturday and in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Sunday. Orlando was without veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, who aggravated a lingering knee injury in Tuesday’s loss to Golden State. The pain isn’t considered serious and Nelson hopes to play on Saturday.

Orlando initially didn’t miss a beat following Vucevic’s ejection and played quite well in the early going. The Magic hit four threes and had 13 assists on their 20 first-half field goals to pull even with the Suns at 52 at the intermission.

With Nelson out, Oladipo was afforded the opportunity to start at point guard for a third time this season. And the rookie responded well in the early going against Dragic and Bledsoe by contributing 11 points and six assists in the first half.

Oladipo said Orlando ultimately has to find a way to maintain their strong play over the course of 48 minutes. Two straight second-half collapses have taught the rookie the value of not letting drop-offs happen in games.

``Even going into the fourth, we were only down four, but they just went on that crazy run,’’ Oladipo said. ``We kind of lost a little bit of gas there at the end. We just have to continue to grind out games like this. It’s a tough loss for us, especially playing well for three quarters and then, I don’t know, losing gas or whatever. They turned it up and we couldn’t hold our own.’’