In two of the last three games, Orlando has statistically won the game if you look at the Four Factors.
Against Toronto, Orlando shot a better effective field goal percentage, had an offensive rebound rate nine percentage points better than Toronto and had a comparable free throw rates and offensive rating.
Against the Jazz, the Magic also shot a better effective field goal percentage, grabbed 34.3 percent of available offensive rebounds and were relatively comparable in offensive rating (again, depending on how it is calculated).
The difference in these two games was abundantly clear even without looking at the advanced statistics. Seventeen turnovers and an 18.7 percent turnovers rate against the Raptors. Twenty turnovers and 18.5 percent turnover rate against the Jazz.
Turnovers were killer in both these games as they both came down to the wire and were decided on those precious final possessions. Giving them up, obviously was not something that could be in the plans for Orlando if the team wanted to win.
With so much good, Jacque Vaughn said after the loss to the Jazz that the reason for the loss was plain in the turnover numbers.
"Some of those are being incorporated with different lineups," Vaughn said. "With [Gustavo Ayon] on the floor, realizing angles and playing with J.J. a little bit so it’s a different atmosphere. In some sense, they were able to get into us physicality wise and force a few turnovers."
Some of it certainly might very well be new lineups learning how to play together. The Magic are employing several new lineups with Glen Davis out with his shoulder sprain. Andrew Nicholson and Gustavo Ayon have each started a game in Davis' absence and the Magic have used a small-ball lineup that features Arron Afflalo at the four with E'Twaun Moore, J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson at the guard spots.
These new lineups certainly mean new combinations of players are playing together or they are working in new areas. That could take some time to get used to.
But already, the Magic were a high-turnover team.
Orlando is 29th in the league with a 14.8 percent turnover rate. The Magic have had a turnover rate better than 15.0 percent just once in the last 10 games. These numbers are not good and the Magic's turnovers are creeping up even as the team has won.
Perhaps these losses and these miscues were partly because of the new players and combinations on the floor. But thati s also the reality of playing an 82-game season. Injuries happen, teams must adjust.
"The turnovers are not because we don’t know each other," Ayon said. "It’s just because we’re not concentrating on the game. Everybody knows what they have to do, they just missed the play. They just didn’t notice the ball was coming to them. It has been over three months so we should be getting used to each other on the court."
It is hard to say exactly what is causing the sudden rush of turnovers from the Magic.
J.J. Redick noted in late November that this is a high-turnover team. It has become part of the team's identity and the numbers show that. Limiting turnovers is a key for the Magic moving forward. They know the margin for error is already pretty low — particularly when you consider the team's record-low pace for free throw attempts and the team's league-worst 19.8 percent free throw rate — and compounding that issue with mistakes and turnovers only makes things worse.
Even when Orlando's raw number of turnovers are not too awful –the team had 14 turnovers last night against New Orleans — the team is still giving the ball up in bad spots. Execution has to be at a paramount for the Magic with the margin for error so low — particularly since the team is still one of the worst offensively in the league.
"When you play hard, you give yourself a chance," Jameer Nelson said in late November. "When you fight through the mistakes and things like turnovers and those mental lapses that you have, we continued to play hard and play together, you give yourself a chance like we did tonight [against the Celtics]."
A month later in that loss to the Jazz, Nelson said that was the most frustrating part of all the turnovers from that game. The Magic are playing extremely hard and extremely focused (not to mention relatively well, losing the last three games by a grand total of 10 points).
"One thing we have to do as a team is value the ball," Nelson said after Sunday's loss to the Jazz. "One thing, I think the frustrating part of it, is we are playing so hard and with a lot of effort so when we turn the ball over it is deflating us a little bit."
Still, Vaughn has even said the team has to live on a sort of edge. He does not want his players to be afraid to make mistakes or make plays. He needs them kind of pushing that envelope.
With the Magic trying to push the pace a little bit more and get out in transition when they can, turnovers are going to be a part of the equation for this team. This is a high-turnover team. They likely will remain so.
The key is limiting the damage and continuing to play hard when those mistakes are made. Vaughn said after the loss to the Hawks a few weeks ago that the team was successful on the West Coast road trip because they limited turnovers, specifically silly turnovers. Mistakes were still made, but the team made aggressive turnovers wher ethey were trying to make a play rather than unforced or giveaway turnovers.
Those are probably the ones the team can live with. And if they get out of control, the team probably has to take fewer risks while still remaining aggressive.
"You can’t play scared. If you’re going to play scared, you might as well sit on the bench," Nelson said. "But the thing is, you’ve got to play smart. I guess we’ve got to watch film and see the plays that we made and the mistakes that we made in terms of those turnovers. If I see an alley oop pass, I’m going to throw it whether I complete it or not, it happens. If I see a backdoor cut, I’m going to throw it. If it goes out of bounds, it goes out of bounds. I can’t control that all myself. I mess passes up, I make good passes."