It is something that can be tough to do in the midst of a losing season. It is something that can be tough coming back from the All-Star Break. One team is going to have the energy and rhythm to play and the other team has to find it.
Orlando and Charlotte have every reason to kind of fold in the face of adversity. When they both saw it in Tuesday's game at Amway Center, they both found a way to respond. The Bobcats had the last word though, they had the ability to focus and execute down the stretch. In a close game, that can matter, particularly when the Magic decide to show up only for the second half.
Kemba Walker took over the fourth quarter, draining a big jumper after the Magic had cut a 20-point halftime deficit to two in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. He then deflected a pass and beat Jameer Nelson to the ball for an easy lay in. Most of his 24 points came in the fourth quarter as he broke down a Magic defense tired from a gargantuan comeback effort.
Orlando played better. Jacque Vaughn called the third quarter perhaps the team's best defensive quarter of the year. It certainly was the best in a long while. That was not enough. The hole was too deep to climb out of and the team brought its energy and effort to the Amway Center a half too late.
The Bobcats had enough of a cushion to hold on for a 105-92 win over the Magic.
Orlando started the game off sluggishly. Maurice Harkless was about the only guy bringing much energy offensively. Defensively, no one was doing much to stop dribble penetration or to rotate and cover any defenders that got beat. The results were ugly as the Bobcats scored 37 points in the first quarter and built a 20 point lead entering the half.
Players like Gerald Henderson were dominating the game and beating Orlando to the glass. Henderson scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds. Bismack Biyombo made his presence felt early in the paint and was tough for the Magic to crack. Even Byron Mullens had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
The Magic needed a different team to come out at halftime. Something that Jacque Vaughn should not have to ask for considering the margin for error for this team to be successful and the goals Vaughn set for his team at day one.
However, the Magic got the kind of effort they needed and have needed for much of the last two months.
Orlando held Charlotte to 17 points in the third quarter and cut the lead in half after three quarters. The Magic ketp on grinding and kept on getting stops. The team was scrappier and crisper on those rotations. They locked down the boards and cut off dribble penetration. Charlotte found it much more difficult to score.
And, more importantly, Orlando started making its shots to slow down Charlotte's pace some. The Magic were a different team from the beginning of the second half. They scored the first six points of the half. The Magic had the ball moving and seemed to be racking up tons of assists.
Nikola Vucevic led the team with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Arron Afflalo also had 18 points. Jameer Nelson added 10 points and six assists. Maurice Harkless had a strong offensive game with 15 points and Andrew Nicholson turned in a double double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The problem however was that the hole was so large. The Magic needed to treasure every possession, particularly coming down the stretch.
And the unfortunate part was that the Magic could not get that last little push to get over the top. It could have been J.J. Redick missing an open 3-pointer in transition. It could have been a poorly timed turnovers followed by Walker hitting a jumper or Henderson tipping the ball out to save a possession after a missed shot.
Orlando just could not get that last little push. And all those poor plays early on in the game appeared to have taken their toll later on. If there is one thing the Magic learned, it is that they need intense focus throughout the game.
Perhaps a lesson that should have already been learned. but a lesson the team can apply starting now.