The Orlando Magic's frustrating slide continued Sunday in a 104-96 loss to the Phoenix Suns. The loss is Orlando's fourth straight and eighth in its last nine games; were it not for a narrow win against a banged-up Milwaukee Bucks squad with just eight players on November 13th, the Magic might be riding a nine-game losing streak.
"You give them credit offensively," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said of his opponents Sunday. "They had some shot-makers out there, guys that they got the ball in their hands and they made plays and made shots for their team."
Goran Dragić stepped up as one such shot- and play-maker: the five-year veteran poured in 23 points and 13 assists, and he scored Phoenix's last seven points to put the game out of reach for Orlando.
Here's a look at the stories that developed Sunday.
Orlando welcomed combo forward Tobias Harris back to its lineup on Sunday. Harris made his season début after missing five weeks with a high ankle sprain. In 16 minutes off the bench, the third-year player shot 3-of-8 for six points and one rebound.
"It felt great, checking in, getting back in the flow of things," Harris said at his locker stall after the game, just after removing his feet from a bucket of ice.
Harris understands that coming back from an injury is a process; he doesn't expect to be his old self right away. The Magic would likely prefer him to return to form sooner rather than later: he made a name for himself in Orlando after the Magic acquired him at the trading deadline, leading the Magic in scoring with 17.3 points per game.
The Magic used Harris primarily at power forward in his first half-season with the team, both because of the mismatches his speed creates at that position but also out of necessity, as Glen Davis had already sustained a season-ending foot injury by the time Orlando traded for Harris. With Davis now healthy, Harris played exclusively at small forward Sunday.
"I think there's advantages at each position, playing either the three or the four, but Coach thinks my advantage is at the three," Harris said. "If that's the role that he wants me to play, then I'm going to play it to the best of my ability."
After the game, Vaughn explained his philosophy regarding where Harris might play.
"I think you'll see him at both [forward] positions," Vaughn said. "Could be on different nights, matchup-wise. We'll see how our rhythm is once we get everyone completely healthy and we'll have to find a balance with both units. That could be him playing three or four."
The Magic haven't been able to find a consistent role for backup power forward Andrew Nicholson in recent games, given their opponents' tendency to go small at that position. After getting just six garbage-time minutes Wednesday in a loss to the Miami Heat, Nicholson played 19 minutes in the Miami rematch Saturday and another 26 on Sunday.
Against the Suns, Nicholson had his best game of the year, tallying 19 points, eight rebounds, and a career-best three three-pointers. He had missed all 11 of his trey attempts over Orlando's previous nine games.
"He's a guy that's been very in tune with what we're trying to do," Vaughn said of Nicholson. "He's trying to get better every day. He takes the approach of trying to get better every day. Tonight his number was called and he performed really well for us. He took the challenge defensively and offensively was good for us as well."
Synergy between Davis and Harris
Prior to Sunday, Davis and Harris had never played on the same side in an NBA game. The pair looked to work together well on a few occasions, even in just a few moments; though I tend to think Harris is best at power forward, he could work well at small forward with Davis around to create space for him.
Davis assisted on Harris' first basket of the season. Facing up from the right elbow extended in delayed transition, Davis waited for Harris to cut from the weak side and hit him in traffic with an overhead pass. Harris caught the ball and laid it in over the outstretched arm of Suns forward P.J. Tucker.
In the second quarter, Davis set a downscreen for Harris as the third-year pro came to the right wing to take a Jameer Nelson pass. Davis' screen kept Marcus Morris from challenging Harris' shot, which found the bottom of the net.
As Vaughn expands his playbook, I'd be curious to see Harris and Davis operate together in pick-and-rolls, especially if they can force switches on those plays. It's not difficult to imagine Davis rolling hard to the rim and sealing off Harris' defender with two feet in the paint for an easy score.
According to NBA.com/stats, the Magic outscored the Suns by four points with Davis and Harris on the floor together. That figure is promising when one considers that Orlando ultimately lost by eight.
Suns accomplish rare feat
Phoenix earned the easy victory Sunday despite making only one free throw. According to the Elias Sports Bureau via via John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, the Suns became the first team since the New Orleans Jazz in 1977 to win a game with just one freebie.
Phoenix went 1-of-3 from the foul line Sunday. The lack of foul calls--the teams combined for only 29 personal fouls and 17 free throw attempts--meant Sunday's matinée ended one hour and 59 minutes after tipoff.