The energy was sucked out of Amway Center far too quickly as the Magic dug themselves another deep hole early in the game. It could get brought back just as quickly with Victor Oladipo flying to the rim. And it could be taken away just as quickly with the Bobcats stifling the Magic and parading to the foul line.
Shoulders drooped. Hope was lost. The home crowd was quiet.
The Bobcats had silenced a Friday night Magic crowd that was previously energized enough to help them eliminate a 21-3 deficit. Simply put though, the home crowd had nothing to cheer for. The Magic were not generating much offensive fluidity, they were forcing shots and fouling so much it disrupted any rhythm in the game.
Charlotte’s defense would not crack and Orlando’s forced shots would not fall in an 111-101 loss at Amway Center on Friday night, the team’s 10th straight defeat.
A Magic team that continually states it is all about winning, is still searching for the right formulas and combinations to get those wins. Some of it may simply come down to attitude.
“We just had to go right back at them,” Tobias Harris said. “We can’t hang our heads. It’s the NBA. It’s a game of runs. Stuff like that is going to happen, night in and night out. We have to pick up our energy, we have to be excited. In the fourth quarter, whether we are down 10 points, eight points, six points as it were, our energy has to be higher.”
The Magic were abysmal in the fourth quarter, shooting 7 for 20 from the floor. Only four made 3-pointers were the saving grace offensively. The Magic were certainly not getting to the paint with just five field goal attempts in the lane — none of them going in.
Defensively, the Magic conceded 20 free throw attempts, committing 10 personal fouls in the final 12 minutes. The 16 makes accounted for nearly half of the 33 points Charlotte scored in the final period to pull away from Orlando.
The Bobcats never quite looked like they would dominate and run away with the game either. They were just able to grind the game out and keep the lead a manageable distance away from the Magic. Orlando never led in the final quarter, but had plenty of opportunities to do so if they could correct their own mistakes.
“When you’re down and you are trying to come back in the fourth and you’re making shots, the foul becomes a weapon for the other team,” Arron Afflalo said. “Now your aggressive play can be used against you. And you have to be aggressive with higher energy down the stretch when you are trying to come back. It wouldn’t be as deflating if the opponent has to take the ball out and you can kind of refocus yourself. But when every overly aggressive move results in two points for them, it’s a tough circumstance to put yourself in.”
Afflalo played in his first game since a foot injury knocked him out of the game in Denver last weekend. He scored 24 points on 7-for-14 shooting, making four of his seven 3-pointers including a slight energy-boosting four-point play that brought the lead to six points.
Charlotte was able to respond to that with a steady diet of Al Jefferson. Jefferson had 30 points and 16 rebounds, working his way slyly around Glen Davis or Kyle O’Quinn or whoever was on him. Nikola Vucevic was certainly missed again.
Unlike the Magic though, Charlotte was able to force itself into the paint and make the referees make decisions about whether to reward the team with the calls. Gerald Henderson scored 11 of his 17 points from the foul line and had that aggressive mentality. The Bobcats ended the game with 38 points in the paint, but outscored the Magic 14-4 in the paint in the second half. Orlando went just 2 for 9 in points in the paint.
That is going to make it tough for anyone to score consistently, certainly to make any type of comeback from a sizeable deficit.
The Magic sure tried though.
Tobias Harris scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Jameer Nelson added 18 points and eight assists. Victor Oladipo supercharged the second quarter comeback that erased that early deficit, turning in a quick five points that was capitalized by a steal and posterizing two-handed jam of Gerald Henderson. Oladipo finished with 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting and 10 assists against four turnovers.
Orlando was just not able to get into the lane and create easy scoring opportunities consistently. And the offense suffered, going back and forth between efficient and frustrating, the entire night.
“No one knows what the 57 minutes does,” Jacque Vaughn said, referencing the amount of time Victor Oladipo was on the floor in Wednesday’s triple overtime loss. “I’m not going to use that as an excuse for our guys. You give them credit for their defense, they are one of the better defensive teams in the league. They were able to make adjustments and make us take jump shots by collapsing the defense in the paint.”
During that early run from the Bobcats, the Magic had more than their fair share of shots rim in and out. The breaks go that way sometimes. In a 10-game losing streak they seem to always go that way.
Right now it is easy to feel the energy getting sucked out of the team as they grind their way through this stretch.