The Orlando Magic did most of the things they needed to win. But most is not going to be good enough for this team as that was enough for Dallas to win.
They responded to the barrages the Dallas Mavericks can put on teams. Mostly.
They defended Luka Doncic effectively. Mostly.
They put themselves in some chance to win. Mostly.
Mostly though is not good enough to win against quality teams. Mostly is not good enough when the team is shorthanded thanks to injury and missing so many key offensive weapons. Mostly is not good enough with a margin for error that feels so razor-thin.
And something that feels mostly good can turn mostly bad very quickly. The Mavericks turned a six-point Magic lead in the third quarter into a rout thanks to the 3-point shooting from Tim Hardaway Jr., who scored 16 of his 36 in the third quarter, and the resurgence of Luka Doncic after struggling to start the game.
Dallas ran away from Orlando for a 112-98 victory at American Airlines Center. Mostly will not get the job done for this Magic team.
Orlando took a big punch and looked dazed through the first quarter in Dallas. The disorganization that hurt the Magic against the Rockets was apparent. Dallas made a living in the paint and then kicking out to the 3-point line for 10 3-pointers in the first half.
Orlando could not get much going, but the team found a groove attacking the paint and getting to the foul line. The Magic just kept chipping away at the lead until Gary Clark finally hit a pair of 3-pointers at the end of the second quarter.
Orlando started the third quarter on an 11-1 run to take a six-point lead. Their defense tightened up and they got more deflections and contests at the 3-point line. That freed up their offense.
But it would not last. Tim Hardaway Jr. got hot from beyond the arc and the Magic had no answer without an offense capable of hitting from the outside consistently or able to generate enough easy shots to say with them.
Mostly is not good enough in other words.
At this point, it is hard to ask what more Nikola Vucevic can do to help his team. He had a slow offensive start Friday and tried his best to get others involved, but they were not helping him. He got a little more aggressive searching for his own shot. But man, does he still need more consistent help and shooting around him.
Nikola Vucevic scored 30 points on 14-for-24 shooting to go with 13 rebounds. He was effective everywhere in the paint with only a few shots that caused him moments of frustration. Vucevic was consistent and reliable as he always is. And he keeps producing.
The Magic are still figuring out how they want to defend. Vucevic has started blitzing more and has been effective at his role in that. He is still too slow to track back as the ball rotates around, but the effort is there. And when the Magic went back to dropping in the third quarter, he was good at getting his hands up and forcing deflections and turnovers.
With the Orlando Magic losing so many point guards, the team is going to be running Aaron Gordon as essentially the team’s point forward in a lot of ways. Get ready for this experimenting to continue with some growing pains and successes along the way. Welcome back from your load management day off.
Aaron Gordon was game for it all, scoring 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting. He tried a bit too hard to force action off the dribble and fell into some of his worse shooting habits. But he found pockets to score. When the Magic were at their best, Gordon was making shots and making plays, recording five assists.
Aaron Gordon’s big task in this game was his defense on Luka Doncic. There, he did pretty well overall. Doncic scored 20 points on 7-for-20 shooting, completing a triple-double with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. But Doncic had six assists. And Gordon made him work for all of his points. It was not perfect, but it showed how needed Gordon will be.
Terrence Ross has nights like these. Even at full strength, it is hard for the Orlando Magic to win when Terrence Ross is simply not able to hit from the outside. So his 11-point, 3-for-12 shooting effort was just one of those nights. Ross missed all four of his 3-pointers. Again, Ross has these games and he has to shoot himself through them. He did not shoot the team out of the game.
But his defense was certainly a bigger factor. Terrence Ross lost track of Tim Hardaway Jr. on several occasions. And he was slow on some rotations behind the blitzing the Magic were doing on the perimeter.
Ultimately, though, Ross’ biggest task on this team is to be a shooter. And it is simply impossible for this team to win if Ross is not hitting his shots. Orlando lacks too much shooting and too much firepower on the bench. If Ross is not hitting, the team is not going to win.
Dwayne Bacon is a solid scorer. He knows how to get himself into the lane and he can be creative trying to finish at the rim. Although his ability to make shots at the rim is as inconsistent as advertised. Dwayne Bacon can get to the basket and score. The Magic are going to need that creation to some extent.
Bacon scored nine points. That is about what the Magic need to get from him from a raw total wise. But his efficiency needs work. He made only 4 of his 13 shots. Missing plenty of those good looks near the rim that he has to hit.
He also missed plenty of players on the perimeter. When Bacon is driving to the basket, he is going to score. And that scorer’s mentality is a good thing. But he has to also be thinking about how and who to pass to.
The Dallas Mavericks were undermanned thanks to a positive COVID test in their group — those players remained quarantined in Denver. It threatened to halt the progress and rhythm the Mavericks were building. This is what a star like Luka Doncic can do. Even on his bad nights, he can help others get going.
Doncic did a lot of his work in the first and fourth quarters to give the Mavericks an early lead and to finish the game off. But his work was mostly sucking up attention to get others going. And unlike the Magic, whose supporting characters did not provide a ton of help, they came through.
Three-point shooting was the key to the win. Dallas hit half of its 3-pointers — 20 for 40 — with Tim Hardaway Jr. making 8 of 13 and Trey Burke making seven of eight. The Magic had no answers to slow either down. And Dallas just kept feeding the hot hand eventually.
Orlando is now 6-4 and fourth in the Eastern Conference. They return home to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.