By John Denton Feb. 25, 2014
WASHINGTON D.C. – Because they are still without injured leading-scorer Arron Afflalo and have a roster full of young and mostly inexperienced players, the Orlando Magic’s margin for error when playing on the road is paper-thin.
On Tuesday, the Magic played with great energy and execution most of the night, shooting a robust 54 percent through three quarters and getting contributions from several players.
Still, the Magic need to play almost perfectly on the road to win – something that head coach Jacque Vaughn has pointed out repeatedly. And they were far from perfect on Tuesday as the surging Washington Wizards turned Orlando’s 17 turnovers into 23 points and 13 fast-break points in a 115-106 defeat of the Magic at the Verizon Center.
``(The turnovers) are something that we can correct, but we’ve got to correct them and make better plays,’’ said prized Magic rookie Victor Oladipo, who had a team-high 26 points. ``We can’t turn the ball over. That was a big emphasis for us going into the game and we could have done better in that category.’’
The Magic (17-42) equaled the longest road losing streak over a single season of 16, a mark that was set previously from Jan. 27 through March 21 of 2006. The Magic, owners of the league’s worst road record at 3-27, haven’t won away from Orlando since an 83-82 defeat of Chicago on Dec. 16.
Orlando will try to avoid the franchise record for consecutive road defeats when it plays slumping Philadelphia on Wednesday night. The franchise record for road futility is 17 straight losses – a streak that includes the final 12 road games from last season and first five road games from this season.
``I don’t know what it is, but at home we play so much better and I feel like we could beat anybody,’’ said Magic forward Maurice Harkless, who had a solid bounce-back game with 22 points, five rebounds and two 3-pointers. ``But on the road, we struggle. I can’t tell you how many games in a row that we’ve lost on the road, but we’ve got to find a way to get some wins. I think it’s a part of us being young, but that’s no excuse.’’
Washington, 29-28 and winners of four straight games, had a 13-0 advantage in fast break points on Tuesday.
Oladipo, who was playing just a dozen miles from his home in Upper Malboro, Md., made 10 of 20 shots. Nikola Vucevic chipped in 19 points and 14 rebounds, but he struggled guarding former Magic center Marcin Gortat (21 points and nine rebounds). Orlando also had no answer for Washington all-star point guard John Wall (27 points and seven assists), second-year guard Bradley Beal (21 points) and former Magic swingman Trevor Ariza (22 points and five of five shooting on 3-pointers).
Orlando, which shot 50 percent from the floor and made eight 3-pointers, was within four points of the lead late in the first half, but yielded a back-breaking run by Wall. Orlando impressively made 11 of its first 14 shots of the second half to get within 86-80 of the Wizards. But seven straight Washington points to close the third period served as the knockout punch for the Magic.
``Turnovers got us. To hand them over 20 points from our turnovers, hurt. We talked about just making the simple play and I think that was the second thing on our board (in the locker room),’’ Vaughn said. ``We’ve been talking about that whether it was in practice about finishing quarters. We had a segment in practice (on Monday) talking about finishing quarters. We’ll keep reinforcing those thoughts and they will become habits over time.’’
The Magic played extremely hard in the early going and were within four points of the Wizards with 90 seconds left in the half. But Wall proceeded to convert a turnover into a dunk and he closed the half with a hard-driving three-point play that put Washington up 62-53 at intermission.
Harkless was aggressive and attacking early on, by scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds in the first half. His spinning three-point play was a highlight of the first half. Jameer Nelson, whose availability was in doubt early in the night because of sinus issues, started strong with six assists in the first quarter. However, he had little luck staying in front of Wall, who pumped in 18 first-half points.
Oladipo said that while the Magic are taking their lumps now, they are learning a lot along the way. He predicted that, in time, nights like Tuesday will ultimately turn into victories for the youthful Magic.
``It’s a learning process,’’ he said. ``Eventually our time will come. We just need to keep getting better and keep fighting.’’