The Magic suspected scoring would be a problem entering the season. There was no great one-on-one player that demanded the defense's attention at all points of the game. That made it clear Orlando would have to manufacture points with strong half-court execution and transition baskets.
Defense would not hurt. And even when Orlando was not scoring on this night, much like against Utah on Wednesday, the team was able to fight and claw with some solid defense. Until the end, when one glaring hole seemed to widen and lead to a loss.
For the second straight game, some awful shooting (even with decent looks) led the Magic to bog the game down and try to grind a low-scoring victory. For the second straight game, Orlando fell behind and had to fight back and did so. For the second straight game, the fourth quarter proved to be the team's undoing.
After scoring 30 points in the third quarter, Orlando's offense went cold once again. Getting good shots on the pick and roll and attacking the basket and moving the ball in a way the team was not in the first half to take the lead and begin to pull away, the Kings found energy from their bench. And from their smallest player.
Isaiah Thomas changed the game, becoming a one-man fast break and igniting the Kings to retake control of the game after losing a 14-point lead from early in the third quarter. He had 17 points and helped the Kings to 25 fast-break points. Many of those came in the tell-tale fourth quarter.
Orlando's offense? It was unable to find rhythm all night and unable to make shtos when it was absolutley needed. The long misses and some gritty work on the boards from Sacramento and a few lucky bounces only fed Thomas and the fast break more. The Magic's transition defense could not catch up to Thomas and the Kings distanced themselves with a 91-82 win at Sleep Train Arena on Friday.
In the end, the Magic's offense was anemic, hardly looking like the squad that dominated the fourth quarters against the Lakers and the Warriors. This was a team shooting 37.5 percent from the floor and hitting on only 4 of 15 3-pointers. It is not that the shots the team was getting were not good all the time. There were plenty of open misses and misses areound the rim. It was just the large volume of misses.
It started from the beginning of the game with poor offensive execution. The Magic sought to establish Arron Afflalo in the post and fell into the bad habit of relying too much on isolation plays. Arron Afflalo scored 18 points, but shot 6 for 15, starting the game 4 for 10. Glen Davis scored 20 points too, but needed 19 shots to get there and looked like he was forcing the issue some at the beginning of the game particularly on his way to five turnovers.
The Magic are indeed a team that has a very small margin for error. And the last two games they survived despite poor shooting and a large amount of turnovers. But in neither case could they get the win.
Even against a Sacramento team playing without Tyreke Evans, the margin for error remains small. Orlando will not win any games where the team commits 16 turnovers and shoots worse than 40 percent. Even against a team that struggles as much as the Kings — they shot 40 percent, committed 18 turnovers themselves and missed plenty of shots up close — it can take one spark to exploit the Magic's weaknesses.
Just remember the shot chart for Orlando from the first half. The Magic made only one shot outside the paint in the first 24 minutes. And the offense was hardly efficient. Nelson took over in the third quarter to make up for some of it, but Sacramento adjusted and Orlando had to rely too much on its starters again and fell too far behind while Sacramento looked fresh.
The Magic are still looking for the right formula and the right mix to get wins. They are right at the doorstep of doing it but are just missing the last few pieces necessary to win some of these close games.
Orlando is far from the team many expected. They are better. But with the chance to win in the last two games and the chance to gain more confidence and build something more, Orlando fell flat. That part is certainly frustrating. The Magic do not need to go back to the drawing board. They are close to winning in these situations. It now becomes about consistency and gaining confidence.
The unfortunate part, with two straight games of offensive struggles. Confidence is the next day's pitcher. And momentum seems to be building int he wrong direction.