Kim Klement/USA TODAY
Goran Dragic had his way with the Magic defense most of the night, dribbilng into the paint and finishing himself or finding the shooter on the weak side. At the end of the game, with the Suns clinging to a three-point lead, it was certainly on the veteran point guard to calm his team down and pull out a road win.
Dragic did just that, scoring seven straight points in the final two minutes to extend a five-point lead out to 12 and put the Magic away. Orlando's run to cut into a 14-point lead was cut short by Dragic's brilliant on-the-ball play and some timely shooting from Channing Frye.
The uphill battle for the Magic to get back into and make this close a game came up short. Phoenix's relentless fast break attack and shooting from mid-range helped the team keep its distance for a 104-96 win at Amway Center on Sunday.
Dragic ended with 23 points and 13 of the Suns' 25 assists. Gerald Green scored 20 points, including 13 points on 3-for-5 3-point shooting in the first quarter when Phoenix raced out to a 31-21 lead. Channing frye added 14 points, but hit two back-breaking 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
"You give them credit offensively," Jacque Vaughn said. "They had some shotmakers out there. Guys that got the ball in their hands and made plays and made shots for their team.
"I think their ability for multiple guys to be able to push the basketball. They take advantage of it. We didn't have too many turnovers tonight. We had 12 turnovers, but when we did turnover they were capitalizing on that. Overall they are going to push and make you miss. Multiple guys can do it and they did it."
The Suns controlled the tempo from the tip it seemed, wrakcing up 18 fast break points and beating the Magic to numerous loose balls. Phoenix was looking to run and, especially when Orlando's guards drove into the paint, found little resistance trying to start the break. Goran Dragic's strong pick-and-roll play and Phoenix's ability to hit jumpers helped the Suns execute in the half court early and maintain their distance the rest of the way.
They did not even need free throws shooting a Magic opponent low three free throws in the game. Perhaps ironically, the Magic have lost all three games they have played when their opponent shot five free throws or less. The Suns actually became the first team to win a game with just one free throw attempt since a Nov. 1977 game between the New Orleans Jazz and the Houston Rockets.
All the Magic seemingly could do to counteract was to make shots. That was something Orlando struggled to do most of the night, hitting 46.4 percent of its shots and 6 of its 21 3-pointers.
The Magic got solid scoring contributions from Nikola Vucevic (20 points including 10 in the third quarter), Jameer Nelson (15 points, nine assists), Arron Afflalo (16 points, six assists but 6-for-14 shooting) and Andrew Nicholson (19 points, eight rebounds). It was just difficult to string them all together.
It felt like one player had to take over to keep the Magic in the game with Vucevic doing a lot of work in the third quarter and Nelson carrying the load more in the fourth quarter. Vaughn said it was the team's job to have one man step up after the other . And it certainly is, but the Magic were fighting an uphill battle the entire way.
"It's tough especially coming off the back to back," Nelson said. "You exert so much energy last night and put so much into that game, you ahve to figure out a way to bring energy. We couldn't figure it out early on. We dug that hole for ourselves and made it tough. We just couldn't get over the hump. We cut the lead to three, four, maybe five points, they hit a couple threes and are up by 11 points and it kind of deflates you a little bit."
The Magic struggled corralling the Suns' ball handlers and preventing the 3-point shot. Phoenix hit 11 of 29 shots. When the team was not doing that, it seemed like it was hitting every contested mid-range jumper at the key moments. Marcus Morris had 16 points and his brother Markieff Morris had 12 off the bench.
Orlando simply did not get the contributions from other players necessary to make it all the way back.
Victor Oladipo made just three of his 12 shots. Often his misses at the rim led to run outs for the Suns. Tobias Harris made three of his eight shots in his return to the lineup and Glen Davis made three of seven in his second game back. It will take some time to integrate the new guys back into the lineup and they showed flashes of what they can provide, but it did not help when Orlando needed buckets from those guys or to turn momentum.
Patience is a difficult virtue to learn at this point. But it will come.
Everything, it seems, that Vaughn has preached about pace and controlling tempo need to be re-taught with this new team. Especially against running teams like Miami and Phoenix who really try to control the tempo with their offense and movement.
They really did not have a ton of answers for what the Suns did to stymie the Magic and frustrate them so much on the offensive end to keep the lead where it was.
"I don't know," Afflalo said. "I definitely want to get back to a much higher level, not necessarily scoring the ball but continuing to playmake with a little more ease. Things seem a little more difficult the past few games. That's my responsibility to make the proper adjustment. Hopefully that does not linger too long."
Orlando found its answer too late Sunday.