Orlando Magic must learn to survive the lulls

Apr 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith (5) drives to the basket between Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) and guard Evan Fournier (10) during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 122-102. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith (5) drives to the basket between Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) and guard Evan Fournier (10) during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 122-102. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic lost a third game this week thanks to a devastating run in the second half and the team’s inability to stop the bleeding.

38. Final. 122. 156. 102

Evan Fournier stopped to speak with FOX Sports Florida’s Dante Marchitelli before halftime for the Orlando Magic broadcast’s halftime interview. His Magic team had a two-point led heading to the locker room against the contending Cleveland Cavaliers taking advantage of Cleveland’s somewhat disinterested play.

Orlando was playing well. The Magic were hitting shots and holding the Cavaliers’ offense in check. But Evan Fournier knew things would change.

He told Marchitelli the Cavaliers would try to “punk” them early in the third quarter, putting their foot down and give themselves an opportunity for rest before heading out for the second night of a back to back.

Fournier would prove to be prophetic, stating after the game to Marchitelli in the locker room that is exactly what the Cavaliers did.

Cleveland scored 43 points in that fateful third quarter, making 9 of 13 3-pointers in the quarter. It was an offensive clinic of drive and kicks and re-drives and re-kicks. The Magic got broken down at the initial point of attack, had a poor close out to the 3-point line, saw the Cavaliers drive again and swing it to the weak side for an open three. The Magic would be stretched too thin to recover.

This is what Cleveland does, though. What a team has to learn how to do is withstand these flurries and get their shots in too.

As much as building a winning culture is about getting wins — and that is important — it is just as important not only to keep fighting, but keep producing as a team goes through these stretches.

In the third quarter Tuesday, like the fourth quarter in Saturday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Magic could not stop the bleeding. Or even staunch it for a moment. The offense let them down too and the points kept coming and coming.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic shot 7 for 20 from the floor in the third quarter, turning the ball over four times. The Magic, who got to the line 26 times in the game, had just four free throw attempts in the third quarter. They could not keep pace and keep up. The Cavaliers kept coming until things petered out. Orlando played virtually even from there.

Credit Cleveland for stepping up the defensive pressure. The Cavaliers did a better job keeping the Magic in front of them and preventing much penetration. But these are the moments where the Magic need to force some action and get points. This is the moment where someone has to take control.

Increasingly — and throughout this season — the Magic have not had someone to break the team from these funks. They have just had to ride them out. And sometimes that storm destroys everything hey have built.

It is why the Magic’s margin for error is so small.

These lulls have happened on a few occasions recently, not just in Tuesday’s game.

The Magic gave up an 11-1 run to the Oklahoma City Thunder a week ago, shooting 5 for 21 in the fourth quarter. In that game, it felt like the Magic were begging for just one shot to go in. And making one shot or stringing together two shots in a row felt likely to hold off the oncoming Russell Westbrook storm.

It happened again Saturday against the Nets. Brooklyn went on an 11-0 run to break an 89-all tie and win the game running away. The Magic shot 7 for 17, recovering offensively. But the defense never came back as the team looked a step slow from the fatigue of a long two days of games and travel.

The Cavaliers ended up putting on an 18-2 run in the third quarter to take firm and final control over the game. The Magic simply could not answer or get the looks they needed to keep pace.

Runs will happen in the NBA. Everyone often says the NBA is a game of runs. And the good teams know how to limit them and recover quickly. These moments do not stagger them. They are momentary setbacks, not damaging endings.

This is the difference between good teams like the Cavaliers and struggling teams like the Magic. It is something Orlando has to learn.

As the Cavaliers kept making three after three against the Magic on Tuesday, the Magic seemed to lose faith and trust. The offense became stagnant and the defense became even worse. A drop in body language is expected when a team is giving up so much, but the good teams find a way to grit out some offense and stem the tide.

It is true, the Magic’s offense has been better since the All-Star Break. The team is scoring 103.1 points per 100 possessions and is 23rd in the league. That is much better than where the team is for the entire season at 29th in the league.

The offense is still a work in progress and will have these moments, even as the team has picked up steam on that end of late.

But more importantly, it is the defense that creates energy. Getting a stop and digging out a stop is the way for any team to accomplish this. And the Magic’s defense is more unreliable than the offense at the moment.

For the team to pick up the wins it says it wants, it has to learn to find the offense again and use the defense to do so.

Good teams know how to manage and halt runs quickly. Or make them not as bad. These are NBA teams, every team will get hot. The question is whether it is enough to pick up the win or bury a team.

Orlando again was buried by a second-half run. The Magic could not stop the bleeding fast enough or get themselves right fast enough to prevent another defeat.

Next: Grades: Cleveland Cavaliers 122, Orlando Magic 102

The Magic still need to learn to survive these lulls.