By John DentonNov. 28, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS – Maybe having played more games – and particularly more road games – than any other team in the NBA is starting to catch up to the surprisingly sluggish Orlando Magic. And that’s not a good thing with a six-game, 10-game road trip staring them right in the face now.
Falling 98-83 to an Indiana Pacers team that was without three starters on Friday night pushed Orlando’s losing streak to four games. But what was more troubling was that the Pacers (7-9) had far more energy and better execution than a Magic team that struggled mightily on both ends of the floor from start to finish.
Veteran power forward Channing Frye, Orlando’s prized free agent acquisition from the offseason, talked before the game about the Magic needing to play with more of a sense of urgency, but that aspect seemed to be missing much of Friday. Orlando (6-12) got demolished on the glass in the first quarter (22-9), turned the ball over too many times in the third quarter (seven times) and got repeatedly gashed in the fourth quarter of a particularly ugly loss.
And for the game, the final numbers weren’t much better for the Magic: They yielded 17 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over 18 times – miscues that resulted in more than one-third (38 points) of Indiana’s 98 points.
``They killed us on the boards from the (opening) gun as soon as the game started,’’ said Magic forward Tobias Harris, who had 14 points and four rebounds, but was on the bench much of the third quarter because of foul trouble. ``We’ve got to stick to our games plan of defending their offense. On this road trip that’s what we have to do or all of these games are going to end like they did tonight. If we don’t pick up our defense it’s not going to be pretty. And a game like tonight’s exposed that. They wanted it more and were more physical. They out-battled us and you can’t expect to win a game if you get out-battled.’’
Eleven days ago, Orlando played some of its most beautiful basketball in years when it gashed the Pistons for 13 3-pointers and 33 assists in a 14-point victory. But since then, Orlando has won just once in five games – and in that victory the Magic needed to wipe out a 23-point deficit to equal the third-largest comeback in franchise history.
The Magic shot 44.3 percent from the floor, got outrebounded 53-32 by an Indiana team without 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert and had few answers defensively for Rodney Stuckey (24 points) or David West (18 points).
``It’s tough right now, but we have to stay calm and not panic and start doing crazy things out there,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who missed out on extending his NBA-best total of double-doubles after scoring 16 points but grabbing just seven rebounds. ``We just have to go back to playing the ay we know how to play. … I don’t think it’s time for us to hit the panic button yet, but it’s close and we need to make sure that we regroup and do a better job. On this road trip if few don’t play the right way, it’s going to be a long one.’’
Friday’s game was as close to whole as the Magic have been all season – even though they are still missing rookies Aaron Gordon (broken foot) and Devyn Marble (sprained rotator cuff). For weeks, the Magic have had to play with Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye, Tobias Harris, Evan Fournier or Kyle O’Quinn out because of injuries. But all of those regular rotation players were healthy and on the floor together Friday night.
Harris came alive in the fourth quarter to score eight of his 14 points, but by then it was far too late. Oladipo also had 14 points and four assists, but he got just seven shots as he tries to balance his duties as a point guard who gets others involved and stays aggressive.
Frye had three 3-pointers in the first half, but did not score in the second half. He said the young Magic squad has hit a dangerous point in the season where they must respond so that the momentum doesn’t continue work against them.
``It was a dangerous time, I don’t know, how many losses ago,’’ Frye said. ``We want to get better. That sense of urgency should start to get in people’s guts now and we’ve just got to pick it up. We did some good things, but we can’t have lulls and we’re not good enough to completely (mess) up the third quarter like that, especially against a good team with veterans.’’
Orlando came into Friday having already played the most games (17) in the NBA and the most road games (10), but the showdown in Indy was the start of its longest and most arduous road trip of the season. Over a 10-day period, the Magic play the Pacers (Friday), Suns (Sunday), Warriors (Tuesday), Clippers (Wednesday), Jazz (next Friday) and Kings (next Saturday).
Head coach Jacque Vaughn refused to use fatigue as an excuse for Friday’s sluggish performance.
``Hopefully we’ve done a good job of scheduling our practices and our walk-throughs with the idea of giving our guys some rest,’’ said Vaughn, whose Magic are scheduled to practice on Saturday in Phoenix. ``I’ll treat these guys like professionals and like men. I’ll put it on them to have themselves ready no matter what the schedule is.’’
Indiana hardly resembles the team that led the East much of last season and was in the conference finals each of the past two seasons. In addition to Paul George (broken leg) being out for the season, the Pacers were without Roy Hibbert (sprained ankle) and George Hill (knee contusion) on Friday night.
Within striking distance at halftime, Orlando fell into a 17-point hole in the third quarter. They trailed 72-59 going into the final period and it could have been worse had Donald Sloan’s floater not been taken off the scoreboard following a referee review between quarters.
Orlando was a mess offensively in the third period, turning the ball over seven times. Indiana didn’t have the firepower to pull away, but it did turn Orlando’s miscues into 10 points in the third quarter.
``Us just going absolutely cold in that third quarter just made I tough on us,’’ Frye said. ``They put a lot of pressure on our defense. For us, we’ve just got to figure out who we’re going to be on a consistent basis. They made shots in the third and fourth quarters when we did not.’’
The Magic trailed 47-45 at the half and quite frankly they were lucky to be that close considering their early struggles. Indiana outrebounded the Magic 31-22 in the first half with 13 of the boards coming off the offensive glass. In the first quarter, Indiana had as many offensive rebounds (nine) as Orlando did total rebounds (nine).
``When you look at the stat sheet, it’s hard to win like that,’’ said O’Quinn, referring to Orlando’s turnover woes (18) and offensive rebounds allowed (17). ``That’s something we’ve got to control and take care of early in this road trip. We could have hit them early and set the tone, but they were the aggressors for most of the game. We let some guys get free runs at the rim. That’s just basic things that we have to stop as a team and take care of.’’
Frye, who has struggled to get open shots over the past four games, had a big impact in the first half by burying three 3-pointers. Veteran guard Ben Gordon also came off the bench and buried two 3-pointers and scored 10 first-half points.
Harris said the Magic have to play with more energy or desire or their solid start to the season could slip away quickly.
``Everybody had to take pride and ownership now and help your teammates out,’’ Harris said. ``You mess up on the defensive end you should be upset because you let your teammates down. That has to be our mindset going forward. Everybody had to hold each other accountable and tonight we didn’t do that.’’