By John Denton Nov. 18, 2017
ORLANDO – All throughout a game that saw the Orlando Magic start poorly, get progressively worse as they sputtered offensively and defensively and ultimately reach historically bad proportions, veteran point guard D.J. Augustin kept having the same recurring, head-scratching thought.
``What am I watching? I don’t really know right now how to even answer that question,’’ Augustin muttered dejectedly after a Magic team on top of the Eastern Conference just two weeks ago got throttled 125-85 by the previously slumping Utah Jazz at the Amway Center. ``Just watching that game, watching us out there and being out there, it was the same (thought): `What’s going on?’’’
For Orlando (8-8), this was far more than just another loss that runs its skid to four straight defeats. The 40-point difference tied the franchise record for biggest home loss in history, equaling the 121-81 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 26, 1991. It tied for the fourth-worst loss in franchise history and reminded some of last season when the Magic won just 29 times and were routed by 30-or-more points a NBA-most eight times.
``A poor effort, a poor response to adversity and we should all feel embarrassed to put out this kind of performance anywhere, but especially in front of our home fans,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the Magic. ``For us as professional players we should have more pride in responding someway, but we didn’t do that and it’s just a bad night for everybody.’’
Once 6-2 and setting team records for scoring, 3-point shooting and assists, the Magic had little to nothing working for them on Saturday against a Utah team that came in winless on the road and had played in Brooklyn – and lost – a night earlier. On this night, the Jazz (7-10) led by three points after a quarter and by 15 at the half. From there, the night proceeded to completely go off a cliff as the Magic trailed by as much as 30 points (97-67) in the third quarter and by a staggering 46 points (120-74). If not for two Marreese Speights 3-pointers in the final minute, the Magic would have almost certainly have suffered the worst home loss ever and could have topped the 47-point defeat suffered in Chicago last April.
``I thought tonight we looked like the old Magic,’’ said guard Evan Fournier, referring to the team that has missed the playoffs each of the past five seasons. ``Just bad offense that leads to bad defense. We never had a stretch during the game where we were playing good. From zero to 48 minutes, it was just bad. It’s unacceptable.’’
Magic coach Frank Vogel said ``unacceptable’’ was part of his postgame speech to his players and later he added: ``Just played our worst game of the season. Credit to the Jazz, they played desperate because they hadn’t won on the road yet. They played a terrific game and we did not.’’
Granted, the Magic were playing their first game after an eight-day West Coast swing, but the squad’s lack of urgency and cohesiveness on both ends of the floor was particularly alarming in the one-sided defeat that had fans heading for the exits before the start of the fourth quarter. The Magic looked to be light years away from the team that thrashed Cleveland and San Antonio early in the season.
With another difficult road trip looming, Vogel decided long before Saturday loss to give the team Sunday off with another home game coming on Monday (against the Indiana Pacers) and another difficult road trip looming. That day off will now turn into a gut-check time of reflection for the reeling Magic.
``We’ll see how we respond to this game,’’ Vogel said angrily. ``I’m less concerned with what happened in this game and more concerned with how respond from it and to it.’’
Added point guard Elfrid Payton: ``It’s tough, but we’re not going to make excuses and we’ve got to respond. We didn’t play with no energy, we were sluggish out there, loose with the ball, careless with the ball and real lax on defense. They got whatever they wanted and we never really made it a test for them. We’ve just got to do better.’’
Orlando shot 38.8 percent from the floor, made only eight of 29 3-point shots and mustered just 13 assists. Because of the lack of ball and body movement, Orlando’s first assist didn’t come until its seventh field goal – when the game was already 7 minutes, 9 seconds old.
Defensively, the visual was just as unsightly as the Magic were repeatedly gashed for 14 3-pointers. Rodney Hood scored 15 of his 31 points in the third quarter – and poured in 19 straight points during one stretch – to put the reeling Magic out of their misery in the second half.
``I know these games can happen in the NBA, but we should hold ourselves to higher standards than we did tonight,’’ said Vucevic, who had just eight points on three-of-11 shooting. ``A loss can be acceptable and it’s a part of the game, but this loss is not (acceptable). At this point, each person has to look ourselves in the mirror. Everybody is at fault … we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, start there and bring more to the table. The talking was done and that’s past and now we have to lead by example – each one of us.’’
Aaron Gordon had 18 points and nine rebounds, but he missed all four of his attempts from 3-point range. He came into the game shooting 64 percent from 3-point range in games played at the Amway Center – tops in the NBA – but his errant shooting was emblematic of a night when little went right for the Magic.
Terrence Ross scored 12, while Fournier chipped in 11 points. Payton had seven points and three assists, while Augustin – who played for the first time in two weeks because of a strained hamstring – missed all three of his shots in 17 minutes. Speights, who saved Orlando from holding an infamous record with his two threes late, finished with 11 points.
Derrick Favors battered the Magic inside for 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Saturday’s game was the first of a brief, two-game home stand sandwiched between two lengthy road trips. Orlando completed a four-game, eight-day West Coast road trip on Thursday – one in which it won the first game, but dropped the final three. After Monday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers, the Magic head out on another difficult four-game road trip that will include games in Minnesota (Wednesday), Boston (Friday), Philadelphia (Saturday) and Indiana (Nov. 27).
``We’re going to see what we’re built of after an effort like this,’’ Payton said. ``Definitely, this (next game) is a must-win. Monday is a must-win for this group. Obviously, it’s still early and we still have time to get better, but internally we’ve got to show some fight.’’
Down 15 at the half, the Magic saw any hopes of a comeback die early in the third period. When Hood hit a pull-up jumper, the Jazz were up 77-58. And by the time Hood was finished pouring in a breath-taking 19 consecutive points – a stretch that included five 3-pointers – Orlando was in a 103-67 hole.
Remarkably, that deficit would swell to 118-72 in a fourth quarter that was nothing but meaningless garbage times for both squads. Orlando’s starters were out of the game, but they had to endure the humbling loss together along the Magic’s bench.
Not much was said, Vucevic noted, and what could have been said after the night had gone so horribly wrong? All that matters now, the 7-foot center added, was how the Magic respond to one of the worst defeats in franchise history.
``Everybody just had their heads down and there wasn’t much to say,’’ Vucevic noted. ``In those moments, there’s not much that can be said that will help. It’s just moments where everybody is angry and made and sometimes it can lead to bad moments, but we’ll let things cool off a little bit.
``But when we come back (on Monday) we have to talk about what the issues were and fix them,’’ Vucevic said. ``Tonight wasn’t the night. Now, we’ll go home and look ourselves in the mirror individually and go from there.’’
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