Postgame Report: Magic vs. Blazers (3/25/14)

By John Denton
March 25, 2014

ORLANDO – It makes little sense, really, how the Orlando Magic have consistently beaten some of the best teams from the rugged Western Conference at the Amway Center and had no success at all against them on the road.

To a man, the Magic’s players have tried figuring it out, but they are usually left speechless and with their palms up in the air. The split-personality nature of Orlando’s home success and road woes is often commonplace to young teams, but still it is perplexing nonetheless.

How to explain a Magic team that, in the span of less than 48 hours, dropped to 0-15 on the road versus teams from the West and then thoroughly throttled a West playoff team on Tuesday at the Amway Center?

Looking like a much different team than the one that just dropped four straight road games last week, Orlando put forth one of its best all-around efforts of the season on Tuesday in dismantling Portland 95-85.

The Magic thrived defensively all night and pulled away in the second half against one of the NBA’s most offensively potent teams. So what gives Tobias Harris?

``We play with a lot of energy at home, being with our fan base here because they bring us a lot of energy,’’ said Harris, who scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds (six offensive). ``As a team we know that we have to improve on the road. We have to have that same focus. Playing on the road is a lot different. … We know we have to get better on the road, but we’re bringing it at home and this was a good win for us.’’

The Magic (20-52) equaled their win total from last season and ended a nine-game losing streak. The last victory was March 2 and it came, of course, at home. Orlando is a respectable 16-18 at home this season, and three of those wins – against Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland – are in line to make the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Nikola Vucevic dominated much of the first half and played well on the inside with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while rookie guard Victor Oladipo was fabulous initiating the offense with 13 points and six assists.

``We had a rough stretch where we haven’t won a lot of games lately so I just wanted to help my team get a win,’’ said Vucevic, who made 10 of 18 shots. ``The guards were able to get in the paint and (Robin Lopez) was going to help a lot and I was able to get dump offs around the rim. That’s the best way to get going with some easy points.’’

Robin Lopez had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Portland (45-27). Damian Lillard scored 17 points, but he missed 12 of his 17 shots and all four of his 3-pointers.

The Magic were playing their first game following a seven-night, four-game road trip that saw them return to Central Florida at 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Tuesday’s game was the start of a four-game home stand with Orlando hosting Charlotte (Friday), Toronto (Sunday) and Cleveland (April 2).

``I’m really pleased at the mental focus that we had from the beginning of the game to not use being on the West Coast as an excuse,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``So wins and losses, points and rebounds – all of that matters. But being able to grow that way (not making excuses), that’s just as important.’’

Portland lost a night earlier in Miami and lacked offensive firepower without LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the game with a lower back contusion. The all-star power forward had 36 points and nine rebounds when the Blazers beat the Magic 110-94 on Jan. 8 in Portland. The Blazers, which shot a dismal 37 percent and made just seven of 26 3-pointers, came into the game second in the NBA in scoring (107.3 ppg.) and it was their lowest output since scoring 81 against Memphis on Jan. 28.

Up eight at the half, Orlando had a shaky start to the third period by giving up five quick points. But they never lost the lead and extended it out to 79-65 by the start of the fourth quarter thanks to a fast break flurry. Harris gave Orlando a great lift off the bench by making all four of his shots – including two 3-pointers – for 11 third-quarter points.

Orlando dominated the second quarter and held an impressive 50-42 lead at the half. The Magic moved the ball well offensively and scrambled well defensively to suffocate Portland’s 3-point shooting. The Blazers made just two of 12 shots from beyond the arc in the first half.

Vucevic was aggressive in the first half and was the beneficiary of some excellent interior passing by Oladipo (four first-half assists). Vucevic made six of his first seven shots and had 14 points and six rebounds by intermission.

Oladipo, who started a fourth straight game at point guard in place of injured veteran Jameer Nelson (sore left knee), was in attack mode from the start and he spent most of the first half in the paint what with his hard drives to the rim. He scored seven points early on, the prettiest of them coming on a three-point play when he crossed over Portland’s Mo Williams and scored at the rim over Robin Lopez.

In time, Oladipo said the Magic will learn how to endure the mental swings of playing on the road and become just as effective as they have been while playing at home this season.

``You’ve got to learn how to win on the road. I had to learn how to win on the road in college and I’ve got to re-learn how to win on the road here in the NBA,’’ Oladipo said. ``We’ve just got to keep getting better. We can even do a better job of playing at home. So it’s just about getting better.’’