The Magic were too determined to lose this one.
Not after going through 12 games of bitter disappointment and strong play let down by momentary lapses. Not after seeing so many guys go down to injury and so many leads dissipate or margins grow.
The losing streak has been frustrating to watch. The Magic have had opportunities slip away and the team was clearly not satisfied with the results. Orlando finally put everything together and finally got off the schneid.
An energetic effort from Kyle O'Quinn and Gustavo Ayon off the bench and the spirited return of J.J. Redick to the lineup buoyed the Magic to a 13-point lead in the first half and a lead throughout the entire second half. Orlando had the ball moving and defended well, putting everything together for a 110-104 win over Portland at Amway Center on Sunday night.
The Magic really got back to basics to win this game. They found the formula that made them so successful at the beginning of the season.
That would be strong defense that emphasizes closing off the paint and an offense that relies on ball movement and pick and rolls to free up shooters.
First, the defense was really the biggest stunner after the disappointing effort Friday in Cleveland. No, Orlando's defense was not absolutely lock-down, so to speak. The Blazers still scored 100 points and shot 50.6 percent from the floor.
However, much of that had to come on jumpers. LaMarcus Aldridge struggled to get going in the paint. He scored the majority of his 25 points in the third quarter on jumpers. Damian Lillard struggled to get into the paint and create for himself and for others. The stellar rookie finished with four points on 1-for-16 shooting, although he still had 12 assists.
The paint protection started with some strong on-ball defense from Nikola Vucevic and then the pure energy from Kyle O'Quinn and Gustavo Ayon. Ayon set the tone in the second quarter, timing it just right to deny Lillard at the rim on a layup. He found himself in the right position so many times as Orlando closed the paint off. It says something that the Magic outscored the Blazers 60-46 in the paint.
That attention to the paint did mean Portland got open for three a few times. That was something the Magic seemed willing to concede. Nicolas Batum scored 11 points in quick succession in the second quarter to cut deep into the Magic's double-digit lead. Portland did make 10 of 27 3-pointers.
The Magic's offense was so devastatingly efficient and in sync that it did not matter.
Orlando ran its pick and rolls brilliantly with Jameer Nelson spending most of the first half driving and looking to distribute. Nelson finished with a career-high 15 assists before finding his shooting touch to score 10 points, many of them in the third quarter.
Orlando, as a team, recorded 34 assists. Gustavo Ayon recorded six on his own and added 16 points and 11 rebounds, hustling to get to loose balls and offensive rebounds throughout the evening. J.J. Redick had 22 points and five assists himself.
What made the Magic's offense so effective was that they often made the extra pass. It was never the first guy receiving the ball that scored oftentime, it was the next guy.
And then when the Magic missed, particularly in the first half, they were the first ones on the offensive glass. Orlando grabbed 17 offensive rebounds with Nikola Vucevic grabbing six of his 19 off the offensive glass. The Magic took very good care of the ball and were often getting second chances to score.
That is simply something you cannot do. Once the team got its momentum going, confidence seemed to be flowing. Nobody expected Ayon to be so key in keeping the ball moving. He made some incredible passes to cutters and his teammates rewarded him with finishes.
The positive reinforcement bred confidence throughout the roster as just about everyone played well. Jacque Vaughn actually had a difficult decision to make with Kyle O'Quinn providing a spark early before Ayon stepped in and began changing the game with his passing.
Orlando's confidence could clearly be seen in the way the team turned back any run Portland could make.
The Magic did not look like a team that had lost 12 in a row, in other words. They looked like the dominant team. They looked like a team finally fulfilling the expectations they had for themselves. Now it is time to keep building.