Postgame Report: Magic vs. Kings

By John Denton
Jan. 23, 2018

ORLANDO – Just when it looks like the Orlando Magic have some building momentum and as if they are poised to finally change the narrative on a six-year run of rebuilding, games like the one on Tuesday at the Amway Center seem to come along and deflate the promise like air rushing out of a balloon.

Whatever good vibes and hope the Magic built up following big wins against Minnesota and Boston and a near-miss against Cleveland disappeared on yet another forgettable Tuesday night. That fact became a gruesome reality when the Magic played with little precision early on, struggled with turnovers and defensive issues all game long and went ice-cold down the stretch of a head-scratching 105-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings.

``It’s super frustrating because you’re talking about something that’s been going on for four years now,’’ said point guard Elfrid Payton, who had 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but was unable to keep Sacramento’s Garrett Temple from registering a career-best 34-point night. ``With how much work you put in in the offseason and in practice and then come out and have the same results, we’re looking at like four years of this now and it’s pretty disappointing.’’

Orlando (14-34) got outscored 28-17 in the fourth quarter and it didn’t have a field goal for the final 5:33 of the game before Payton’s meaningless layup just before the buzzer. Sacramento, also 14-34, not only played a night earlier in Charlotte, but lost for an eighth straight time and for the 13th time in the past 15 games. None of that mattered on Tuesday as the Kings seemed to be the sharper, fresher team down the stretch with the game on the line.

``I think it was just a lack of urgency,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, whose seven turnovers offset his 16 points and 12 rebounds. ``We weren’t sharp. … Attention to detail, I guess.’’

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel was clearly agitated by the effort afterward, speaking in short, clipped sentences so as to carefully choose his words about the disappointing loss. Vogel pointed out that he saw a slippage in focus and intensity in practice on Monday and it carried over to Tuesday’s game. Orlando turned the ball over 17 times, leading to 22 points for a Sacramento team that was without veterans Zach Randolph and George Hill and rookie De’Aaron Fox (abdominal tightness).

``I mean we guard against (overlooking opponents), we talk about it … you know, `respect your opponent’ and `gotta bring the same intensity that we brought in Boston,’ but we did not tonight,’’ Vogel fumed.

Hoping to win consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 8 and 10, the Magic instead fumbled the ball away far too often, repeatedly botched defensive assignments and failed to play with the intensity that it used in toppling the East-leading Celtics over the weekend.

``I mean, it’s pretty disappointing,’’ said Magic center Bismack Biyombo, who had four points, six rebounds and four blocked shots before fouling out late in the night. ``When we go in and beat Boston and then come home and lose to Sacramento … no disrespect to Sacramento, but we fought hard against Boston. We showed that we were being a really, really good team on both ends of the floor (in Boston on Sunday). We did a pretty good job throughout the game (on Tuesday) until the fourth quarter. Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to stay focused for the 48 minutes of the game.’’

Temple, who had never before scored more than 23 points in a NBA game, nearly had that amount during one torrid stretch of the fourth period. The eighth-year guard scored 17 consecutive points for the Kings during one stretch of the final quarter, helping Sacramento go from being down 91-86 to being up 103-97. He singlehandedly outscored the Magic 17-6 in that tide-turning stretch and made 14 of 17 shots and four of seven 3-pointers for the game.

``Our guys are competing, but nobody could get it done,’’ Vogel said of the defense on Temple. ``He scored on multiple guys and, you know, you’ve got to cool a guy like that down. Credit him for having a great game.’’

The same also could be said for center Willie Cauley-Stein (21 points) and Buddy Hield (13 points and three 3-pointers), who repeatedly burned Orlando’s defense.

Up since the late stages of the second period, Orlando lost the lead with five minutes to play and it never recovered. That happened largely because Orlando missed seven consecutive shots, turned the ball over twice and misfired on a free throw for more than 5 minutes down the stretch.

``(The Kings) hung around and got confident – that’s kind of what happens when you don’t put teams away or games away like that,’’ Gordon said. ``They stay in it in the fourth quarter, hit a couple of shots and we have a couple of turnovers and now you find yourself with an `L.’’’

On Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, Vogel worried about a drop off in his team’s intensity – something he said it could not afford because of its spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Sure enough, that took place on Tuesday in what might qualify as the Magic’s most disappointing defeat of the season.

``It’s almost laughable to use the word complacent with the record that we have,’’ said Vogel, whose Magic dropped 27 of 31 games at one point over November, December and early January. ``But when you beat a team like Boston in Boston, there is a natural letdown that sets in. We have been very actively guarding against that.’’

The Magic never heeded Vogel’s warning on Tuesday, and they were saddled with a 13th home loss of the season. Orlando is just 4-11 after winning the previous game – a major reason why it has been unable to string any sort of momentum together.

Evan Fournier scored 22 points, but he missed all six of his fourth-quarter field goal attempts (five from 3-point range). Jonathon Simmons scored all 14 of his points in the third quarter.

The Magic came into Tuesday playing their best basketball since the first month of the season. Last week, Orlando whipped Minnesota at the Amway Center, fell in the final seconds against Cleveland and defeated the Celtics in Boston on Sunday. That victory snapped a 14-game skid in Beantown that had spanned a seven-year period of time.

None of it mattered against a Sacramento team that simply played with more urgency. Once again, Vogel predicted what could happen if his team didn’t bring the proper focus to the game, saying: ``We also understand that they are on an eight-game losing streak and they’re going to play desperate.

Having already benefitted from getting extra rest over the past two weeks, the Magic will now have another three-day break before playing again. Orlando won’t be back on the floor for game action until Saturday when it is in Indiana to face the Pacers and newly minted all-star selection Victor Oladipo. The Magic just might need that much time to get over the bitterness produced by Tuesday’s loss.

Up one at intermission, the Magic pushed their lead out to as much as 11 points in the third period and threatened to break the game open. However, turnover woes and defensive breakdowns allowed Sacramento to claw back into the game and the two teams headed into the fourth period with the Magic up jut 82-77.

That run would be a preview of what would happen in the fourth period when Orlando couldn’t get stops defensively, couldn’t get in gear offensively and looked nothing like the squad that played so effectively in recent games against Minnesota, Cleveland and Boston.

``Honestly, I think we have enough offensively, but we’ve got to dig in on the defensive end,’’ Payton said. ``We show flashes of it, but we’ve got to be consistent with it. It’s never going to be perfect, but we’ve got to have better stretches for longer stretches on that end of the floor for things to change for us.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.