By John Denton Nov. 25, 2017
PHILADELPHIA – Throughout this lengthy and troubling skid that continues to threaten their season, the Orlando Magic have lost games in a variety of ways. They’ve had blowout losses, heartbreaking losses and head-scratching losses where defense, ball movement and turnovers were the primary culprits at different times.
On Saturday, the Magic fell to defeat an eighth consecutive time, in large part, because of a different sort of loss. As much as they don’t want to make excuses and should be playing with tremendous desperation to break themselves out of their unsightly streak, the Magic were unquestionably victims of the dreaded ``schedule loss’’ on Saturday while facing the rested and ready Philadelphia 76ers.
Playing a fifth game in eight nights – and a second time in 48 hours – the weary and reeling Magic were outhustled, outfought and outplayed in a somewhat predictable 130-111 loss to the rested Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center.
``It’s tough because they’ve been off for a couple of days and we played (Friday) night in Boston and they were a step quicker to most things,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``(The 76ers are) a good team. Credit them, they played really well.’’
The 130 points by Philadelphia (11-7) were the most allowed by the Magic this season, topping the 126 yielded versus the Brooklyn Nets early in the season. In this eight-game skid Orlando has surrendered 125 points twice and 124 points in another loss. Now, there are another 130 points to add to Orlando’s misery.
``I’m not sure,’’ Aaron Gordon said when asked about the reasons behind his team’s defensive struggles. ``It might be a technique. I know, on my part, I didn’t uphold my defensive standards and that leads to a couple of easy points for them. But we’ve got to continue to communicate.
``We’ll break out of this,’’ added Gordon, who scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds. ``We can’t panic and we have to stay composed. It’s that balance of not panicking, but at the same time playing very urgent.’’
Orlando (8-12) still hasn’t won since Nov. 10 after dropping games to Denver, Golden State, Portland, Utah, Indiana, Minnesota, Boston and Philadelphia.
``I’m looking for answers as well because this streak is tough for all of us,’’ said Magic forward Evan Fournier, who didn’t have a field goal in the first half of the game, but finished with 13 points and two 3-pointers. ``Coaches, players – mentally it’s difficult. It’s super early in the season, but it feels like February. So, it’s hard, man, it’s hard.’’
Two weeks ago, the Magic sat at a solid 8-4 after whipping the rebuilding Suns in Phoenix. What followed was a one-sided loss in Denver and Orlando hasn’t recovered while in the midst of easily the most taxing portion of the schedule. By Monday, when this Midwest and East Coast swing is complete, the Magic will have played eight of 10 games and spent 15 of 20 nights on the road.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia was playing for the first time since Wednesday after having Thanksgiving off and an additional day to prepare for the Magic. The 76ers (11-7) are in the midst of a six-game, 14-day stretch where they will be at home. The rest paid big dividends on Saturday at Philadelphia made 50.5 percent of its shots and buried 16 3-pointers – much of the damage coming from former Magic standout J.J. Redick, who had 29 points and eight 3-pointers.
Orlando got 22 points and three 3-pointers from point guard Elfrid Payton, while center Nikola Vucevic chipped in 14 points and 14 rebounds and did an admirable job against rising Philly star Joel Embiid (18 points and 14 rebounds).
Gordon bounced back from another early benching to finish on a strong note, while D.J. Augustin (14 points), Jonathon Simmons (13 points) and Marreese Speights (11 points) played well off the bench.
``We’ve just got to be tougher, a lot together, because this is a league for grown men,’’ said Terrence Ross, who scored five points, handed out five assists and swiped three steals. ``They hit some shots and went on a couple of runs. That’s the time we should have banded together and did a little more, but they had more (fight) than us.’’
Other than when it briefly led by eight in the first quarter and made a brief surge to within seven early in the third quarter, the Magic were never much of a threat to win. The Magic lost the lead late in the first quarter, trailed by 15 at intermission and by 16 at the start of the fourth period.
Dario Saric scored 21 points for the Sixers, while fill-in point guard T.J. McConnell battered Orlando with 15 points and 13 assists.
Ross said this losing streak is testing the very fabric of this Magic team.
``Everybody goes through this one way or another and no one comes in and wins their whole career. But this is really tough and we’ve just got to stick together,’’ Ross said. ``You know you are going to have your ups and downs, but you don’t know what shape they are going to come. But we’ve got to do a better job responding as a unit.’’
Vogel, who hails from southern New Jersey, is a fan of all of Philadelphia’s sports teams and went to several Sixers games as a child. He attended those games at the famed Spectrum, so returning to Philadelphia is different for him now that the Sixers play at the Wells Fargo Center. Still, Vogel had 40 friends and family from New Jersey and Pennsylvania attend Saturday’s game.
``I went to The Spectrum, but it’s still the Sixers, so it feels that way,’’ Vogel said. ``You still feel that on the drive over, probably less on this drive over because of where we’re at (with the team’s recent losing streak), but certainly this always feels like home.’’
Philadelphia was without standout guards Ben Simmons (elbow swelling) and Markelle Fultz (shoulder) – No. 1 picks in the last two NBA Drafts. Simmons is the leading candidate to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year even though this is his second professional season.
After playing in Boston on Friday and in Philadelphia on Saturday, the Magic will most likely be off on Sunday. It will close out this road trip throughout the Midwest and East Coast on Monday when it plays the Indiana Pacers.
Down 15 at the half, Orlando showed much more fight in the third quarter than it has of late. It got within seven points of the Sixers thanks to more solid shooting from Payton only to see the Sixers deliver another spurt of energy that might as well have been a knockout blow for Orlando. Philadelphia reached the start of the fourth quarter with a commanding 101-85 lead thanks in large part to its 52.3 percent shooting and 14 3-pointers.
For a second consecutive night, the Magic’s defense had little luck covering screen-and-roll plays and getting out to 3-point shooters and yielded at least 70 points. A night after getting shelled in a 73-point first half in Boston, Orlando surrendered 70 points in Saturday’s first 24 minutes. And after yielding 56.2 percent shooting and a staggering 11 3-pointers, Orlando found itself in a 70-55 hole at intermission.
Redick, who spent the first 6 ½ years of the NBA career in Orlando, did much of the damage by making six 3-pointers and scoring 18 first-half points. Redick made three shots after a defender scrambled out to him and went flying past as he pump-faked. His final one came as he was falling away from the rim, but still had the rhythm to drill the 26-foot shot.
The Magic’s defense wasn’t good enough then, and it certainly wasn’t good enough for the game. Vogel said as much as he glared at the final box score in the postgame.
``We gave up 130 points and that speaks for itself,’’ Vogel frustratingly huffed.
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