The Magic received some pretty sudden news before tipoff Wednesday when Jacque Vaughn said Arron Afflalo was sent home with an undisclosed illness. Vaughn said that with the team being home for so long, he did not want to get other players sick.
Nothing had changed when Thursday morning rolled along. Vaughn said Afflalo stayed at home and the team hopes he is feeling better for practice Friday. Vaughn would not rule him out or rule him in for Saturday's game.
"You go from winning the game on the road in Chicago to coming and thinking that you're whole and healthy," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "And guess what, you're not. Guys had to handle it pretty quickly. Did some good things in the game, but indeed we missed him."
In Afflalo's absence, the Magic struggled offensively, shooting 32.6 percent from the floor and made only 28 shots, the lowest for the team this season. Not all of that could be attributed to the team having to pull its weight and shift around roles to fill Afflalo's 21.6 points per game, but it certainly did not help as the Magic missed shot after shot in the game.
Vucevic said the team missed him but that does not mean players cannot scramble and step up to compete and win in these situations. Players missing games is part of the game and the team needs to adjust like it did when Vucevic himself was out or when Tobias Harris or Glen Davis were out earlier in the season.
The team as a group had to step up.
The Magic's missed shots Wednesday night almost became infectious, especially easy shots the team is supposed to make as Glen Davis described it, it seemed and no one could quite put a finger on what went wrong.
"I've got to be more aggressive," said Glen Davis, who shot 5 for 9 from the floor Wednesday and was one of the few players to make 50 percent or more of his shots. "Arron is a big vital point in our team. What he does is a big part of our success. If he's not there, I got to be more. I don't feel like I did enough that game. I was being passive. Hopefully he'll be back."
Vucevic said maybe the team could have gotten to the rim more. It just might have been one of those nights. Orlando did shoot 19 of 20 from the foul line.
One constant though for the Magic in the last two games, where the team has scored a combined 165 points (82.5 points per game) and shot 36.1 percent is the team's defense.
The Magic, ranked 16th in the league in defensive rating according to Basketball-Reference, have given up only 168 points (84.0 points per game) and 37.4 percent shooting the last two games. While that is hardly a large enough sample size to make any definitive conclusions, it is a sign that the team is increasingly relying on its defense to keep games competitive.
That should be a good sign when the shots do begin to fall.
"I think we've been doing pretty well defensively lately," Nikola Vucevic said. "Even last night, we had some up and downs, but we were pretty solid I think. We're doing a pretty good job. Guys are starting to trust each other more, help each other more. That's where it comes from."
Jacque Vaughn has constantly and consistently harped on his team's need to establish a defensive identity both individually and collectively so far this season. It seems like he is getting that slowly, but surely as the team's defense continues to adjust and improve.
One thing about the game has not changed — making shots.
"You can play all the defense you want to, but if you can't put that ball in the bucket it doesn't matter," Vaughn said. "It's great that we kept two opponents under 80, but you still got to win the game. You got to figure a way to put the ball in the bucket.
"I really do believe that helps you on both ends of the floor. These guys are human. They see the ball go in the bucket and they feel good about themselves. It's just human nature."
Orlando simply has not done that at a consistently winning rate these past few games. Wednesday night's loss especially served as a difficult reminder of that as the Magic even struggled in the paint despite taking the majority of their shots in the lane where scoring is supposed to be easier.
It is not back to the drawing board quite yet. The lesson of "making shots" remains if the team wants to get back on the winning track.