Jacque Vaughn says despite it all — another nine-game losing streak, and losing now 19 of the past 21 games — his team is approaching the game positively. They are actively trying to solve the problems facing them and buying in to the offense and defense they are playing.
There is not any quit in this team, even as they tumble down the standings.
Whether this is coach-speak to the media or the bottling up of frustrations or a genuine expression of where this team is at this point of the season is something for observers to decide. The Magic are not quitting on the season even when they are under-manned and playing a lot of players still learning the NBA game and their place in it. Not to mention the Magic are playing a lot of players in roles that they are probably not fit for.
Orlando could have folded when it gave up 50-percent shooting to Milwaukee in the first half and fell behind by 13 points in a hurry. Jacque Vaughn had to call a quick timeout in the first quarter as the team was struggling on its defensive rotations and giving up offensive rebounds to Larry Sanders.
The Magic kept fighting back though. They took the lead in the third quarter for a moment and then hit the offensive doldrums again. That is what happens when you have a young team learning to play basketball at a new level.
Moral victories are worthless in the grand scheme of things. They don't count as victories and ultimately the other team walks off happier. The Magic though could be pretty pleased with the emergence of some young players even if they could not put everything together for a 48-minute effort.
The slow start and the slow finish that included Brandon Jennings scoring nine straight points were enough to give the Bucks a 107-98 victory at BMO Bradley Center on Saturday night. Orlando was more than game and had the effort to give it a go, but ultimately the defense, the Bucks' shotmaking and the Magic's missed opportunities at the foul line were too big a hole to climb out of.
With Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson out, Milwaukee's goal was clearly to stop J.J. Redick. Monta Ellis was draped on Redick and playing some physical defense to prevent him from getting free off of any screens or into the paint off the dribble.
That put the offensive onus on Nikola Vucevic, E'Twaun Moore and Maurice Harkless to make up ground. It was going to be a difficult task for sure. At times, each responded as did Kyle O'Quinn, Josh McRoberts and Ish Smith off the bench.
Once Orlando had its calm-down timeout early on, Orlando started to outwork Milwaukee and climb back into the game. Even though Larry Sanders was a major deterrent at the rim, the Magic kept crashing the offensive glass. They had 20 offensive reboundsand scored 52 points in the paint.
Nikola Vucevic had 20 points and five of his 12 rebounds were on the offensive glass. Maurice Harkless too was aggressive both with the ball and on the offensive glass, taking advantage of his career-high 42 minutes. Harkless recorded his first career double double with a career-high 19 points and career-high 14 rebounds.
Those necessary, but surprising performances were part of the positives Orlando could take out of this game.
Harkless, for instance, was aggressive off the dribble for the first time this year it seeemed. He knew he had the green light to try and score and went for it. He was active going after the offensive glass and played some pretty good defense for the most part. It was undoubtedly the best performance of his young career.
Vucevic provided his rock-solid performance. Ish smith came off the bench and, particularly in the second quarter where he committed no turnovers, led Orlando back into the game by creating off the dribble and finding his teammates or recording the hockey assist. Smith had six assists in the game and Vucevic added six as well. Even with Ellis draped on him, Redick had eight assists on the evening.
In all, Orlando had 32 assists on 41 field goals. The ball was moving and the Magic were able to score and find the open man.
Indeed, the points seemed to come in droves. Of course, without Nelson or Afflalo or Glen Davis, the Magic did not have anyone who could consistently create shots on his own. This recurring problem throughout the year sent the Magic into scoring droughts where the Bucks re-established their lead and control over the game.
Orlando's young players show a lot of promise. Right now, though, it is all promise. Promise that is only beginning to be delivered on. That will not result in wins yet.
In the microcosm of this season, this was a frustrating loss where the Magic missed 11 of their 22 free throws and let a second-half lead slip as the offense struggled and Larry Sanders dominated the paint with his rebounding (13 rebounds, six offensive) and blocks (six blocks).
The game was certainly a missed opportunity for an immediate win. But maybe it will remain a confidence booster for the future.