The Magic were ready to try to grind out a game and secure a shootout of a victory against a similarly young team from the Western Conference. They just needed the dang ball to go into the basket. And they needed to get out of their own way.
Orlando could do neither as Sacramento used an 18-4 run to start the fourth quarter to take a double digit lead and send the Magic down into a seeming spiral in the final quarter.
I use that word because it really seems to be the only way to describe what happened in the closing stages. Orlando turned the ball over twice on inbounds plays with the game within two possessions. Arron Afflalo first tripped on a Glen Davis screen causing Victor Oladipo to throw the ball out of bounds. After Isaiah Thomas got int he lane and hit a runner for a six-point lead, the Magic called timeout and committed an inexcusable five-second inbounds violation.
Add in several missed free throws — the team was 2 for 5 in the fourth quarter — and several mistakes down the stretch and it added up to a 105-100 loss to the Kings at Amway Center on Saturday night.
“We just need to do a better job of getting back in transition,” Victor Oladipo said. “Marcus Thornton went off a bit in the fourth quarter and it was too tough for us to come back. We missed a lot of easy shots. We missed some clutch free throws. But again, shoot the ball all you want, if it doesn’t go in, it doesn’t go in. Where we need to improve is on the defensive end. We just have to go back to the drawing board and continue to get better.”
The Kings indeed shot the ball incredibly well, increasing their offensive efficiency as the game went on and slowly choking off the Magic’s offensive fluidity. Thornton scored 11 of his 15 points in the final 12 minutes.
Rudy Gay charged both the fourth-quarter run and a second-quarter 14-4 run that brought a 12-point deficit to two points at halftime. He scored 10 points in the second and nine points in the fourth on his way to 23 in the game.
Orlando’s offense continued to get worse and worse as the game wore on. After scoring 31 points in the first quarter and taking advantage of Sacramento’s pourous defense, Orlando began going away from the fast-break opportunities that powered the team and the ball movement that kept things going.
The Magic ended up shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and hit on only 8 of 20 3-pointers. With the Kings hitting 12 3-pointers that was too many to give up in a game that played about even most of the way.
Tobias Harris scored 21 points, putting the Magic on his back and looking like the Harris from last year in the fourth quarter to close the gap to as little as four points. Arron Afflalo scored 26 points to lead the Magic, abusing rookie Ben McLemore several times in the post. Both missed key free throws late in the fourth quarter which would have helped the team in their desperation to cut into the lead.
More alarmingly, however, the Magic recorded five assists on 11 field goals in the first quarter. They had just 12 assists on the next 28 makes. The ball was getting stuck.
“I think we got to keep moving the ball,” Glen Davis said. “That’s our best thing. Moving the ball and getting each other open. We did that in the first half and we got away from it. On the defensive end, we kind of got away from our defensive principles that we started in the beginning of the game.”
The Magic were struggling once again on that front and struggling once again to consistently put the ball in the basket. Eventually, the Magic’s defense could not contain the Kings offense and things started rolling the right way for the Kings.
Orlando did not help matters with the mistakes the team continually made down the stretch.
The Magic have now lost 10 of their last 12 games and while the East continues to keep coming back down to them, it is feeling like the team is settling in for a long haul of another wretched season. This is not totally unexpected, of course, but still a sobering realization.
The Magic are off to an 0-2 start on this homestand and are searching for answers. Answers they have shown, however, they might be able to find if things start turning their way. Even Kings coach Michael Malone admitted there were a “couple of lucky breaks” that feel in Sacramento’s favor.
“We just got to keep grinding,” Jameer Nelson said. “When you hit a little rough patch called adversity, you have to figure out ways to get out of it as a team. It can’t be just one person because that’s not how you win, and that’s not how you lose. You stick together through the tough times and teh good times.
“The one thing we can’t do is allow teams to make big runs on us. We don’t have the type of team right now to withstand those runs and deliver our punch. We have to keep grinding out games for 48 minutes.”