David Richard/USA TODAY
It is hard to put a finger on just what goes wrong when the Magic go on the road and leave the friendly confines of Amway Center. They have not won a road game since a December victory over the Bulls. That seems like an eternity ago.
Could you point to a lack of energy? Could you point to the youth of playing up and down to competition? Could you point to the little mistakes or the random bounces that may not go their way late in games?
Yes on all three counts.
Could you do the same in the latest road loss — a 101-93 defeat to the Cavaliers in Cleveland? Yessir.
The Magic gave up the first 10 points of the game and scored a lowly 11 points in the first quarter. They found themselves down and unable to generate much on offense. Nothing was going to the basket.
Then it all suddenly clicked after falling behind by 21 points in the third quarter. Orlando made its shots, got to the line, forced turnovers and got out on the break.
Then it all suddenly unclicked. Fouling took over as the Cavaliers tried to hold onto their lead, never giving it up in the course of the game. Kyrie Irving danced around defenders before finding Luol Deng for a big 3-pointer. And Tyler Zeller had a crushing offensive rebound three-point play that negated the Magic's 3-point play on the other side.
Orlando could not afford to trade baskets late and the execution faltered some toward the end. The little things did not pan out — including some interesting calls and some good looks at the basket. The margin for error was a bit too small to allow that to happen.
Again the foul line went against the Magic in both directions. The Cavaliers shot 37 free throws, making 30. The Magic left points on the board with seven misses on 24 tries. Many of the Cavs free throws came in the fourth quarter as they attacked the basket and held onto the lead.
Give the Magic all the credit in the world for continuing to fight in this one. They proved the old NBA adage that every team has a run, no matter who they are. Orlando dug itself a mighty, mighty hole to climb out of from the very beginning.
For the game, Orlando shot just 39.3 percent from the floor and 6 for 22 from beyond the arc. The team recorded 21 assists on 35 field goal makes. That seemed to be a big issue for the Magic as they struggled to create good offensive opportunities and drive into the paint and make the Cavaliers defense work. When Orlando was able to get the ball moving, the team was able to score points.
Arron Afflalo scored 23 points. Nikola Vucevic had 20 points and 12 rebounds. Tobias Harris scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Defense too fed a lot of the Magic's success and failures. Cleveland shot 41.3 percent from the floor and 5 for 20 from beyond the arc. Orlando turned 11 Cleveland turnovers into 20 points.
There were not a lot of fast-break opportunities, but any time the Magic could get out and run it was usually a good thing for the Magic.
Orlando had to manufacture some energy, because it was tough for them to generate it otherwise. Not with the shots struggling to go down. Orlando did not turn the ball over very much and gave itself an opportunity once the team found its footing.
Finding that footing and that comfort for a full 48 minutes continues to be the biggest issue for this young team. That is not unexpected, but things have not gotten better and the Magic looked every part of a 16-win team or worse at the beginning of the game. That is not encouraging for fans that are beginning to get hungry to see some tangible results.
Fortunately for them, this is all happening on the road and the Magic continue to play well at home (again, another expected dichotomy).
The Magic have some figuring out to do the next time they hit the road — it will not be long. Starts like this and tasks like coming back from that deficit are not going to cut it in this league.