ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic will have to wait until next season until they get another shot at potentially ending their unsightly losing streak against the rival Charlotte Hornets.
Not that they ever had much of a legitimate shot at ending that skid on Friday because of the short-handed nature of the roster.
Already struggling to generate much offense because of a bevy of injuries, the Magic found out midway through the day on Friday that Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic would be unable to play because of minor maladies. Those absences eliminated whatever intrigue was left from the late-season game, and Charlotte predictably rolled to a 137-100 defeat of a Magic squad relying mostly on second- and third-line players.
Orlando (24-55) saw its two-game winning streak come to an end with Friday’s lopsided loss to Charlotte (35-45). The Hornets swept the season series for a second straight season and have incredibly now beaten the Magic 11 straight times. Orlando hasn’t toppled their Southeast Division rivals since Dec. 16, 2015.
``We’ve had trouble with their starting five even when we’ve been at full strength, and it was no different tonight,’’ dejected Magic coach Frank Vogel said of Charlotte. ``You continue to ask your guys to compete. There are no excuses (because of injuries) and we don’t focus on who’s out of the lineup. Guys in the lineup have to go in and get the job done. We didn’t do that well enough tonight.’’
Things got so ugly on Friday that the Magic threatened to set a new record for the most lopsided loss in team history. When Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb (16 points) drilled a 3-pointer with 6:28 to play, Orlando found itself trailing by 45 points. Orlando’s most lopsided loss ever – by 47 points – came last April in Chicago. The Magic equaled their largest home loss ever – 40 points – back in November when they fell 125-85 to Utah. Luckily for them, they avoided such a distinction on Friday before an Amway Center crowd of 17,018.
``That’s not normally the situation that we’re in, but we’ve just got to do a better job of competing,’’ said point guard Shelvin Mack, who had 11 of Orlando’s 27 assists on the night. ``We can’t let the situation dictate our attitude and control the things that you can control.’’
Veteran point guard D.J. Augustin led the Magic with 19 points, while Mario Hezonja chipped in 11 points and five rebounds. Marreese Speights, who had previously played just three times since Feb. 14 as the Magic have opted to test their young players, scored 14 points and hit two 3-pointers in 25 minutes.
Khem Birch (12 points), Jamel Artis (12 points), Rodney Purvis (12 points) and Wes Iwundu (10 points) played big minutes for the short-handed Magic.
Late in the game, Vogel was as fiery as he usually is in close games, chiding Iwundu for not sprinting back on defense. To get his message across fully, Vogel signaled for a time out to lecture his disappointed team even more. Vogel said even in games as one-sided as Friday’s there are still lessons to be taught.
``You learn a lot about all your guys every time they are on the floor and you have an opportunity to teach your young guys, in particular,’’ Vogel said. ``There were a lot of teachable moments tonight because they didn’t play well enough by a long shot.
``There was a lot of those (instances where players didn’t sprint back on defense),’’ added Vogel, whose Magic surrendered 23 fast-break points. ``I called a lot of timeouts because of that and I made a lot of subs because of that. There are certain inexcusable plays … that you just can’t allow.’’
Charlotte rookie Malik Monk scored 26 points and handed out eight assists, while Frank Kaminsky chipped in 21 points off the bench. Long-time Magic killer Marvin Williams scored 18, while former Orlando center Dwight Howard had 16 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots for Charlotte, which shot 55.8 percent from the floor and drilled 17 3-pointers. All-star guard Kemba Walker added 13 points and four assists in just 23 minutes.
Orlando shot 44.7 percent from the floor and made nine of 23 3-point shots. The Magic led for 41 seconds at 3-2, trailed by as much as 26 in the first half and found themselves down 103-75 before the start of the fourth period.
``It wasn’t the result that we wanted. That was a very difficult game,’’ Iwundu said. ``The Hornets are a pretty good team, they came out on fire and they jumped on us quick. A game like this, we’ve got to find a way to rally together and go out there and have fun as a team and compete at the highest level no matter the circumstances.’’
Gordon (calf strain) and Vucevic (lower back strain) were held out of the game, joining injured starters Evan Fournier (knee sprain), Jonathon Simmons (bruised wrist) and Terrence Ross (knee sprain) along the sidelines.
Also, prized rookie Jonathan Isaac (sprained left ankle) missed his third consecutive game with his most recent injury and head coach Frank Vogel said that ``there’s a good chance he doesn’t play again this year.’’ Isaac, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, said that despite his disappointment over injuries knocking him out of 52 games that he has gained a lot from his rookie season in the NBA.
``The situation is very frustrating because I just want to play. I want to be out there with my teammates, help win games and be completely a part of it,’’ Isaac said. ``To be in and out is super frustrating. But I’m OK and I’ve seen the silver lining of being here with these guys and being able to come in and help any way that I have. That’s been great, so I wasn’t out the entire season. I was still able to play, still was able to contribute and was still able to help the team win some games. To me, that’s better than not doing it at all.’’
Orlando leaves on Saturday for its final road trip of the season. The Magic play in Toronto on Sunday at 6 p.m. and in Milwaukee on Tuesday at 8 p.m. The Magic close their sixth straight season outside of the playoffs on Wednesday with a home game against Washington.
Down 23 at the half, Orlando saw things only get worse in the third period as it struggled to slow down Charlotte’s high-powered offense. The Hornets made 10 of 19 shots and hit all six of their free throws in the third period to build a lead as large as 30 points.
Incredibly, that deficit would only continue to swell in a lopsided fourth period.
Badly short-handed in terms of offensive weapons, the Magic were outclassed in the first half by Charlotte’s starters and they trailed 72-49 at intermission.
Charlotte not only made 13 of its first 20 shots, but it hung 43 points on the Magic in the first period. That tied for the most points scored against Orlando in a first quarter this season, equaling what Cleveland had on Feb. 6.
At the end of the game, Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford – an assistant coach on the Magic teams that reached the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals – embraced Vogel and tried offering encouragement. Clifford said before the game that he was highly disappointed that his Hornets won’t be in the playoffs – a regrettable feeling surely shared by Vogel.
``We’re both in a spot where we’re out of the playoffs and it’s not a fun spot to be,’’ Vogel said. ``So, you just try to make the best of it.’’
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