There were some new faces in Magic uniforms Saturday. They barely had time to learn basic plays in a walk through. Figuring out where these new pieces fit in the course of the season and on the fly — let alone on the fourth game in five nights and a night after a seven-player performance — is difficult in itself.
Saturday was going to be a difficult game any way you cut it. The regular rotation players were undoubtedly exhausted and the new players were playing on instinct alone.
So maybe the 118-94 final score in favor of the Cavs at Amway Center on Saturday does not say much. Maybe this was a schedule loss that combined the effects of a long stretch of games with the shock and emotion of a trade with the complexities of adding three new players to the rotation.
Perhaps all those factors played into the final score. So long as none of the issues that made a tie game at halftime into a rout. Then again, when you have lost 27 of 30 games, it all seems like a list of compounding issues keeping the team from victory.
Kyrie Irving did not beat Orlando. Rather it was the Magic beating themselves in a lot of ways. Some of it unavoidable — the unfamiliarity of playing together and fatigue perhaps setting in — some of it certainly self-inflicted.
E'Twaun Moore struggled handling the ball against some pressure defense throughout the game and did not get back on more than a few occassions to stop fast break opportunities. The Cavaliers converted 15 Magic turnovers into 19 points. At the beginning of the game, Cleveland used those turnovers to build a double-digit lead. Orlando made a comeback and took the lead at the end of the first half thanks to the energy the second unit — read: the recently acquired players — provided.
The third quarter brought its own problems and more self-inflicted wounds.
Tyler Zeller had 16 points and seven rebounds, much of it in the third quarter. Zeller had six offensive rebounds alone. Marreese Speights, who tortured the Magic in an earlier game this February in Cleveland, had 18 points and and eight rebounds, once again bullying his way to the line for 12 free throw attempts.
Nikola Vucevic had only six points and seven rebounds. The Magic gave up 18 offensive rebounds, allowing the Cavaliers to stay in the game despite a poorer shooting percentage throughout. Orlando survived its own offensive lulls in the first half, but the team regressed to its mean as the game went on and the extra opportunities for Cleveland did not help a usually struggling Orlando offense.
The Magic ended up shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 4 for 14 from beyond the arc. They got 16 points from Arron Afflalo, 12 points from E'Twaun Moore and 13 points from Maurice Harkless.
Perhaps the biggest contributions though came from the newcomers, Beno Udrih and Tobias Harris.
From the moment Udrih checked in, you could sense the change in the Magic. They had a natural point guard with the ball in his hands. Within 10 seconds of him checking in, he had his first assist. He was zinging the ball around and setting up teammates. He scored 10 points and dished out seven assists.
Tobias Harris too brought a lot of energy to the game and showed his athleticism defensively with three blocks and on offense with his ability to create his own shot. He scored 14 points in his Magic debut and showed a lot of energy.
Of course, he has areas he can improve upon — he is only 20 years old and in his second year in the league — but it was a strong debut for a player who was simply out there playing without that established practice time to learn his teammates, much less the plays.
Tonight was just not a night for the Magic to have all of it together. There were too many moving pieces and too much working aginst Orlando. Especially against a Cleveland team playing so well and with Irving pacing it so well.
The time to really judge this new Magic team is coming. It might be Tuesday night in Philadelphia after everyone has one practice under their belt together. It might be later.