PORTLAND – While the Orlando Magic have certainly had their issues this season against elite teams, winning just one of those 14 games, they came into Friday having taken care of struggling foes for the most part.
On Friday, the Magic took on a disappointing Trail Blazers team with an identical record as theirs and hoping to use the night to get themselves back on track.
But, as the sputtering Magic were reminded once again early in Friday’s game, not many NBA teams with losing records have as much dynamic firepower as the Trail Blazers do with superstar guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Lillard scored 36 points and hit seven 3-pointers and McCollum added another 31 points and four threes and Orlando’s sputtering offense couldn’t come close to keeping up in a dispiriting 118-103 loss to Portland at Moda Center.
``That’s the thing, we’re not going to be able to outscore those guys; we’ve got to out-defend them and beat them on the defensive end,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who missed his first seven shots of the game and finished four of 17 in an 11-point, 11-rebound night. ``They did a good job of scoring the ball and we’ve got to do something to get them out of rhythm the next time we see them in Orlando.’’
The Magic (12-17) came into Friday hoping to better their 11-3 record against teams with losing records. However, those hopes died quickly in the night when Portland (13-16) went on a 15-0 run over a five-minute stretch where Orlando missed 10 consecutive shots. Instead of resembling a sub-.500 team, the Blazers looked mostly unstoppable with Lillard and McCollum leading the way.
The Magic’s only lead of the night came at the 4-2 mark early in the game. Not long after, they trailed 31-11, found themselves down 13 at halftime and by as much as 21 points in the final period.
``We just have to find a way to stop the bleeding,’’ said all-star center Nikola Vucevic, whose Magic gave up a 24-0 run in Denver on Wednesday and another 15-0 burst on Friday in Portland. ``I think, obviously, if we were making some shots it would have been easier (to stop the run). When you see the ball go through the nets that always helps. But our transition defense has to be better, but it’s just not easy when you don’t score. It’s natural for us players to get down a little bit and get frustrated. So, we just have to fight through it.’’
On this night, it was difficult to tell which was more ineffective for the Magic – their struggling offense (36.8 percent shooting and seven of 28 accuracy from 3-point range) or a defense that offered little resistance and gave up far too many straight-line drives. Lillard made 13 of 21 shots and seven of 13 3-pointers, while McCollum drilled another 12 of 20 shots and four of eight 3-pointers. For the game, Portland shot 50 percent from the floor and it had a 21-11 edge in fast-break points.
``Obviously, in the first quarter to get behind a team like that on the road, you are going to have to play a great three quarters to come back and win,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``We fought, and we’ll watch the film (to uncover the breakdowns). Again, we’re giving up too many fast-break points and there’s no question we’ve got to make open shots.’’
Vucevic led the Magic – losers of three straight and six of seven – with 23 points and 12 rebounds, however he made only nine of 20 shots. Evan Fournier (seven of 17, 16 points) and Gordon both struggled to find any sort of rhythm in the game.
D.J. Augustin had 17 points off the bench, but he too struggled to find the range from 3-point range (two of eight). Orlando’s top bench threat all of last season, Terrence Ross, scored just nine points after missing five of his six 3-point shots.
``Again, our quality of shot was good and we’ve got to finish plays,’’ Clifford said. ``Tonight, Lillard was just great. He’s a great player and he got going early. He was great.’’
Hassan Whiteside, who did battle with the Magic for years while playing for the Miami Heat, had 10 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks for Portland. It was his 13th consecutive double-double – the most by any Blazers’ player not named Bill Walton in their storied 50-year history.
The Magic lost defensive ace Michael Carter-Williams in the second quarter with what could be a serious left shoulder injury. Carter-Williams, long favorite of Clifford’s because of his ability to contain ball-handlers, was hit by a screen and went down clutching at his right shoulder. The Magic had to call time out to get Carter-Williams out of the game and he did not return because of the injury.
Before leaving, however, Carter-Williams barked at the officials for their non-call on what he thinks should have been whistled an offensive foul against Portland’s Skal Labissiere. Carter-Williams left Moda Center late Friday with his left arm in a sling and he said he won’t know the severity of the injury until further testing is conducted in Orlando on Saturday.
``I mean I thought it was (a moving screen), but maybe it wasn’t, but all I know is I was trying to get through the screen and I hit my shoulder and felt pain obviously,’’ said Carter-Williams, who said he didn’t believe that he separated his shoulder. ``I’ve had some shoulder issues before. It’s real sore now, but we’re just going to go back home and then reevaluate it then. … Right now, I’m just trying to be positive and wait until we get back.’’
Orlando opened the road trip in rousing fashion last Sunday in New Orleans by routing the Pelicans. The Magic then saw chances for wins go by the wayside in Utah (Tuesday) and Denver (Wednesday) when they squandered late leads in the second half. The Magic surrendered a 19-5 game-closing run to Utah and gave up a 24-0 run in the third quarter in Denver after surging ahead by as much as 19 points.
The Magic were scheduled to leave Portland following Friday’s game and arrive back in Central Florida at approximately 6:30 a.m. After spending seven days on the road and playing games in three time zones, the Magic will get a much-needed day off on Saturday. Orlando will return to the practice floor on Sunday to prep for Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls. It will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams.
``West Coast trips are always tough, but right now we’ve got a red-eye flight to catch and then we’ll get some rest and get back to work on (Sunday),’’ Vucevic said. ``We’ve got to get ready for Chicago. That’s a very important game for us. Three straight losses, and we need to win at home and we’ll have to be ready for that one. We have to learn from our mistakes, improve. We all know what we have to improve upon and it’s on us to do it now.’’
Down 13 at the half following a poor start to the night, the Magic only saw things get worse in a one-sided third quarter that left them in a 93-75 hole. Lillard had 16 third-quarter points when he made six of 10 shots and four of eight 3-pointers in the period.
With the memory of Wednesday’s 24-0 run still fresh in their memories, the Magic saw things go south in Friday’s first quarter when they surrendered 15 straight points to the Blazers. Orlando fell behind by as much as 20 points in the first half and rallied back to within six, but it still trailed 57-44 at intermission.
The Magic went 5 minutes without scoring in the middle of the first quarter when they missed 10 straight shots and turned the ball over three times. That drought led to a 13-point first quarter and an 18-point deficit for the Magic.
Gordon, who came into the night having failed to break double figures in scoring in each of the past three games, got off to another dismal start. He missed his first seven shots – three of which were blocked – the first quarter. He did convert a dunk and tip-in early in the second period, but by halftime he had missed 11 of his 13 shot attempts and both tries from 3-point range.
``Man, I’ve got to let go of the frustration because I know how much work that I put in, how diligent I am about this game and how professional I am,’’ Gordon said of his shooting woes. ``The shots are going to fall as long as I stay confident with it and keep shooting the ball. So, I’m not worried about (losing his confidence). I’ve got to find ways to impact the game while (shots aren’t falling). I know that’s those games are coming back. I’ve just got to stay patient and help my teammates around me and bring energy to the game. I know it’s going to come.’’
Carter-Williams, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, said the have to stick together, trust the work that they are putting in and play with more of a sense of urgency.
``I think when we’ve got our pieces together, we’re playing the way that we’re supposed to play and we’re rolling, we’re a tough team,’’ Carter-Williams said. ``We’ve got to play together. I think sometimes we don’t put a full 48 minutes together and we have to work toward that.
``This is no time to panic,’’ the veteran guard added. ``We’re in an OK place where things can turn very quickly.’’
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