It was a morose Magic locker room following an 86-82 loss to the Utah Jazz to kick off a six-game homestand which they all pointed to as one that could end up defining their season and putting it in a direction toward the Playoffs or toward the irrelevancy everyone had the franchise pegged for anyway.
Even in a disappointing game that had Victor Oladipo less than his jovial self and the Magic quick to leave Amway Center with the rotten taste of this game out of their mouth, they still had a chance to win.
Jameer Nelson had the ball with 10 seconds left following a 24-second shot clock violation. He burst past stellar rookie Trey Burke and got to the basket only to try to loft a layup over the outstretched hand of behemoth center Derrick Favors. Favors apparently changed the shot enough.
The ball did not go through the hoop and Utah got the rebound from Marvin Williams to seal the game and take home an 86-82 victory on Wednesday night.
“I got the shot I wanted,” Jameer Nelson said of that fateful shot. “We executed well. Just missed the shot. I’ll take the same shot next time and try to make it.”
The Magic lost this game not for Nelson’s lack of effort. Really for nobody’s lack of effort. The Magic kept the game tight and fought back again and again despite a 32.6 percent shooting performance. Orlando’s defense played a key role, holding the Jazz to 40.2 percent shooting from the floor and 17 turnovers, turned into 20 points.
If Orlando could have made a shot this game would have been theirs, it seemed no doubt about that.
For the second straight game, the Magic were forced to grind one out. Only this time they could not pull out the win.
“It just shows that we have a lot of heart and effort,” Tobias Harris said. “I thought we picked it up a little too late in the second half. If we have that type of effort that we brought in the second half in the first half, that would have been our game from the jump. Going into our next game we have to know that and bring it from the beginning of the game.”
Victor Oladipo shot 1 for 12, struggling to live up to his counterpart on the other side of the floor. Trey Burke scored a career-high 30 points and dished out eight assists and seven rebounds for the Jazz. He hit 12 of his 20 field goals and four of his eight 3-pointers.
Burke controlled the pace of the game for long stretches, coming around screens on the pick and roll and draining jumpers when teh defense failed to rotate over. He got his legs under him, got into a good rhythm and it just seemed impossible for him to miss.
It certainly felt that way compared to the Magic’s shooting performance. There was Oladipo’s 1-for-12 performance. Then there was Nikola Vucevic scoring 14 points and grabbing 14 rebounds on 5-for-18 shooting. Or Jameer Nelson getting his 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting (and remember he was the one who playe dgood offense tonight). Or Tobias Harris scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds on 5-for-14 shooting, starting in Arron Afflalo’s stead after Afflalo was sent home with an illness.
On down the line, the Magic just could not score and could not put the basketball in the hole.
Part of the problem might have been the team was extremely stagnant, often relying on isolation post ups for offense. The ball was getting stuck to one side and was not moving around the perimeter nearly quick enough for an effective offense. The Magic tallied just 12 assists on the night on their 28 field goal makes.
There were the fair share of missed open jumpers, but those happen. Easy shots were extremely difficult to come by and everything seemed to be in midrange.
Even points in the paint were a struggle as Orlando scored 30 points in the paint on 48 field goal attempts. More than half of Orlando’s 86 field goal attempts came in the paint, yet the team made on only 31.3 percent of its field goal attempts in the paint. Add in just 14 second chance points on 12 opportunities, and there were a lot of points left on the board for the Magic.
That is simply not going to win basketball games at the end of the day.
For whatever reason, Orlando could not find that spark. Maybe it was missing Arron Afflalo maybe it was just the dumb luck of making and missing shots.
“Whenever you are missing your leading scorer, you have to have guys step up,” Nelson said. “I thought guys did that in terms of making mistakes and sticking together. Down 22 points with him out, it’s tough. I thought we did a good job, especially when they took the lead, getting back into the game and obviously making a run.”
Jacque Vaughn said he generally like the looks his team was getting. And generally, you cannot disagree. When you particularly consider the Magic held the Jazz to 35.9 percent shooting in the second half and 37 total points, this was a game the Magic had a very good and real chance at winning.
If there is any positive from this ugly game it is that. The Magic once again relied on their defense and it gave them a chance to win.
“I know guys were attacking the basket hard tonight and stuff wasn’t going our way,” Harris said. “But for us as a team, we have to be focused and we have to get defensive stops and let defense be our game plan.”
Now it is about keeping that going while bringing the shot-making and offense necessary to win games.