Behind twin double-doubles from Tobias Harris and Nik Vučević, the Orlando Magic topped the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, 95-85, to end their nine-game losing streak. Harris tallied 25 points and 11 rebounds in reserve, while Vučević posted 23 points and 10 boards for his 33rd double-double of the year.
Portland, playing once again without All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge, struggled to generate offense throughout the night, shooting just 37.2 percent from the floor. Robin Lopez led the Blazers with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but he got precious little help outside of Wesley Matthews, the veteran swingman who posted 18 points with four treys.
Here's a look at the stories that developed Tuesday.
"Mental focus" a key
One of professional sports' most well-worn axioms holds that a team's first home game after a long roadtrip counts as an extension of that roadtrip, owing to fatigue. Orlando, coming off a winless four-game jaunt out West, could have folded Tuesday, but instead played hard and well, with renewed focus, leading to the impressive victory.
"I'm really pleased with the mental focus we had from the beginning of the game to come out and not use being on the West Coast as an excuse," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "Wins and losses, points and rebounds and all that, matters, but being able to grow that way is just as important."
That focus, said Vaughn, enabled the Magic to shut down the Blazers' high-octane offense: Portland entered the game with the league's fifth-best offense, scoring 108.4 points per 100 possessions.
"We focused on a few things," said Vaughn. "First of all, sprinting back in transition and making sure they weren't getting any early threes from us. Offensive rebounds kept them in early, and that's something that we talked about in the huddle." Portland managed nine offensive rebounds in 26 first-half chances. After halftime, it snared seven offensive rebounds in 24 opportunities, a key difference in the game.
It bears noting that Harris, speaking to the media following the game, parroted the points Vaughn made down the hall just moments before, a sign that the coaching staff prepared he and his team well for Portland's personnel. The third-year forward also singled out Orlando's "focus" as a reason for its win.
Ultimately, Orlando's victory Tuesday came down to the fact that it executed its gameplan well, which is more than its opponent can say for itself. Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts criticized his team's lack of urgency and inability to make key plays.
"We have to have an urgency," he said. "We have to defend. We have to do the little things to win games." The Magic did more of those little things tonight, and defended much better than Stotts' team did, proving to be the difference in the game.
Matchup favors Harris
Harris logged 33 minutes off the bench in relief of Kyle O'Quinn, who started at power forward and played 23 minutes, due to the Blazers' personnel. Vaughn highlighted O'Quinn's matchup as the reason for that discrepancy.
"I think overall Kyle had an extremely tough matchup against Dorell Wright, a space four," said Orlando's coach. "But I thought Kyle did a good job of helping his teammates out tonight, giving Tobias more minutes tonight because of that matchup, and Tobias was really effective [on the] offensive rebounding end of the floor, and also making the right play throughout the course of the night."
Harris' speed makes him a better defensive matchup against Wright than O'Quinn, and he added more to Orlando's offense as well. His ability to take Wright and Víctor Claver to the rim off the dribble gave the Magic some punch.
Between the first and second quarters Tuesday, the Magic paid tribute to Grant Hill, who made two All-Star teams as an Orlando player from the 1999/00-2006/07 seasons, as part of their Legends Nights program in their 25th anniversary season. Owing to myriad injuries, Hill appeared in only 200 regular-season games for the Magic. His decision to leave Orlando as a free agent once his contract expired makes him an unpopular player among the team's fans.
When Magic public-address announcer Paul Porter introduced Hill, the fans in attendance greeted him with polite, but brief, cheers and applause; a few rose to their feet. But it's fair to classify the reception they gave him--excepting the fan in the lower bowl rocking a teal Detroit Pistons jersey with Hill's name on it--as "muted."
Vaughn granted his team the day off Wednesday, enabling his players to catch up on some sleep they might have missed on the road and its final cross-country flight home. The players appreciate the small break.
"I didn't get too much sleep," Harris said. "I caught myself yawning a few times during today's game, but I just gotta push through it."
The Magic will reconvene for practice Thursday.