ORLANDO — The building was lifeless in the middle of the second half as Paul Porter tried desperately to inject some energy into the building. The familiar baritone of Porter’s voice boomed through the loud speakers, urging Magic fans to get behind their team in the middle of the second half.
Nothing else was getting the team going, so why wouldn’t this work?
The Magic gave the Amway Center crowd very little to cheer about after Orlando let a 19-point lead dwindle down to five. No, Milwaukee never did really threaten the lead. Hedo Turkoglu made sure of that after hitting a why-not 3-pointer and another of his step-back twos with three minutes left in the game.
But this was yet another game that left Stan Van Gundy and his team wondering where his team’s effort was for half the game as Orlando slogged out a 97-87 victory Wednesday at Amway Center.
“I thought we played a very good first half,” Van Gundy tersely started his postgame press conference.
“I thought in the second half, they clearly played a lot hard than we did,” Van Gundy continued. “They killed us on the offensive glass. We didn’t put much into the game. We played the second half of this game the way we played the first half of the Warriors game. We didn’t put much into it. I don’t think we have figured it out yet, when we don’t put much into it we’re not any good. At some point, we’ll figure it out that to be good, we have to play good all the time, with energy all the time. Luckily we’ve had one good half in each game.”
The second half was enough to put anyone to sleep with some ugly ugly basketball. There were 29 fouls called between the two teams and 46 free throws attempted. Luckily the Magic had built their cushion in the first half to hold off the Bucks, but it was not for lack of trying that the Bucks fought their way back into the game.
Milwaukee had nine offensive rebounds and outrebounded Orlando 25-17 in the final 24 minutes. Orlando moved the ball, but struggled to hit shots, making 15 of 35 in the final two periods and just 3 of 10 from beyond the arc.
The Magic were getting outworked, but luckily the Bucks were not doing much more to get back into the game. Milwaukee shot 19 of 43 in the second half and 39.3 percent for the game.
For the second straight game, it seemed, Orlando did enough to eke out a win against an inferior opponent.
“The last few games, we haven’t been doing a great job in the second half like we did in the Boston game and the San Antonio game,” Jameer Nelson said. “I think in those games, we played hard for 48 minutes or as close to 48 minutes as we could. It seemed to me like we played the scoreboard a little bit too much and that shouldn’t be the case. The game that we are playing right now is bigger than that game. We’re trying to get better and trying to prepare ourselves for what we are trying to accomplish at the end of the year.”
And for the second straight game, Orlando showed both how far it can go and how far it still has left to go.
The first half was really a thing of beauty as the Magic opened up a 16-point halftime margin. Dwight Howard scored 17 of his 28 points in the first half (he finished with 11 rebounds as well). Nelson had seven of his nine assists in the opening two quarters too.
The Magic shot 47.6 percent as a team and were dominating on both sides of the ball, even while shooting 2 for 12 from long range. Milwaukee had just 33 points and was shooting a paltry 34.1 percent from the floor. The 33 points were a season-low given up by the Magic in a half this season.
This was certainly the type of game you would expect Orlando to win and win easily as the team showed no signs of wanting to slow down until the third quarter began.
“We had a chance to bury them and we didn’t,” Jason Richardson said. “Right now, we just want to get wins, especially with a new team. We learned something about ourselves. We learned that we have to bury a team no matter what and find a way and not let them back in the game. If we want to be a championship-caliber team, we got to find a way to not let teams come back like that.”
Orlando again placed six of eight guys in double figures. Richardson and Turkoglu each had 13 points. The team never truly found its 3-point stroke, shooting 5 for 22 from long range. Luckily, Orlando was able to get to the free throw line — especially in the second half — and hit 22 of 33 attempts, with Howard going 10 for 15.
Van Gundy said he did not think when the bench was in as a group that they played very well good tonight, the first time in a while the second unit did not lift the Magic. He said he did not like the energy level in the last two games as the pace offensively has slowed down a bit.
There was definitely an energy deficit as the “honeymoon phase” of the trade seems to be coming to an end. This team is starting to hit the grind again and the focus and energy level is waning a little bit as the effects of an 82-game season start to set in.
“I’d like them to play hard for 48 minutes,” Van Gundy said. “Play hard and have good energy. That’s it. Nothing hard. It wasn’t a matter of mistakes and things today. If you’re going to get outworked by somebody, I’ve got no adjustment for that.”