Even though Orlando has now lost 27 of its past 30 games, this is not a team that is rolling over any time soon. This is not a team opponents can simply waltz in and defeat. Some nights there might be nights of frustration where the score gets out of hand and the shots feel forced with the basket too tiny for the basketball.
Friday night very easily could have been one of those nights. And nobody would have blamed the Magic for shrugging their shoulders through a game.
In a week, however, where the future of the franchise has been squarely in focus with the trade of J.J. Redick still fresh in everyone's minds, Orlando made sure to show that the foundation of everything the team is trying to build is strong. And it showed in the eight guys in uniform for the Magic on Friday night in Memphis.
With the four new players getting their physicals back in Orlando and unavailable and Jameer Nelson out with a strained patellar tendon, the team was left with eight players including Al Harrington, who has not played at all this season. Jacque Vaughn elected to leave Harrington on the bench, giving the Magic just seven players available.
And those seven players did everything they could to stay in the game and fight. They pushed the Grizzlies around for much of the first half and then made a gutsy comeback in the second half, never going away and making the Grizzlies sweat in a game they probably did not think they would.
If Orlando is going to find success in the final few months of the season, the team will have to do it with defensive efforts like this one. Even though the Magic fell to the Grizzlies 88-82 at FedExForum on Friday, they certainly could feel good about what they accomplished (if anything at all). Even the usually dour Arron Afflalo, who still said he hates losing, was pleased with the team's growth in this one.
Of course, Afflalo was the one who started things off and led the team throughout. He scored 20 points and had six rebounds and seven assists. Maurice Harkless put in another strong game continuing to play well in recent games. He scored 19 points, following up his career-high 20-point game Tuesday.
Orlando did not play a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination. The team had to pack the paint and hope Memphis missed shots (which it did). The Magic had to ration fouls — something they did not do as Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson fouled out before the final five minutes of the game. And, of course, Orlando needed to make shots. The team hit only 41.7 percent.
After the hot start where Orlando played neck and neck with Memphis, it seemed Memphis' defense was going to suffocate Orlando into giving up the lead and falling far behind. The Grizzlies had a huge advantage inside with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Neither Nikola Vucevic nor Andrew Nicholson could contain either of them offensively when they got the ball. Gasol had 19 points and 13 rebounds and Zach Randolph had 16 and 14.
So when Orlando's offense went to sleep in the second and third quarters, Memphis expectedly expanded its lead. The Grizzlies built a 16-point lead.
At that point, you might have been safe saying the Magic were going to completely fade away and lose this one.
Orlando kept fighting and kept grinding though. Even when Quincy Pondexter drained a 3-pointer to give Memphis a 14-point lead heading to the fourth quarter, Orlando just kept fighting back.
Memphis kind of slowed down its defensive intensity and its focus on offense. The Grizzlies missed 12 of 29 free throws and each one seemed to bring the Magic closer to tying the game.
In the end, Orlando just did not have the ability to execute late — whether it was the bad matchup losing two of its bigs or simply Memphis regaining the focus to execute and halt Orlando's charge. The Magic got the lead down to three points and the Grizzlies went back to their stalwarts in the post.
Depth certainly played a role in the closing moments.
It counts as a loss just like any other. The Magic though found their identity and found their fight. They have had it again now the last three games. Now, it is just about playing basketball and getting a win.