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Toronto Raptors 108, Orlando Magic 103

The Toronto Raptors' balanced offensive attack and deft ball movement proved too much for the Orlando Magic Wednesday night, as Orlando dropped its third straight game by a 108-103 final. The Raptors held an 18-point lead--their largest of the game--at the end of the third quarter before Orlando battled back in the fourth, cutting their deficit to two with 43 seconds to play off a Vince Carter dunk. Jameer Nelson drove into the lane and shoveled the ball to Carter, who saw the seam in the defense and attacked it. Needing a stop in order to regain possession with a chance to win, Orlando forced Hedo Turkoglu into shooting a contested, off-balance three-pointer falling into the Magic's bench. Turkoglu's wild shot missed long and caromed to the right wing, where it squirted out-of-bounds off a Magic player's fingertips. From there, the game devolved into a free-throw shooting contest, and a dejected Magic squad retreated to the locker room, with some players ducking out before the media had a chance to speak with them.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Raptors 92 117.7 62.3% 29.6 7.4 15.3
Magic 91 113.3 48.0% 43.2 23.3 15.4
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Orlando's previous two losses were due to a lack of effort and focus. Tonight, They played a much better game. The Magic ran their offense through a struggling Dwight Howard, but it paid dividends early, as the attention the Raptors paid him accounted for 12 of the Magic's first 15 points. Howard scored 9 himself, and drew a defensive three-second technical foul on Chris Bosh, who parked himself on the left side of the lane too long while waiting for Howard to make a move. Carter converted that free throw. Finally, Howard drew the defense away from Jameer Nelson, who drove for an easy layup.

It was obvious Howard was trying to make things happen, and his eagerness led to his making some pretty silly passes on the interior. Credit him for looking for cutters--heck, credit his teammates for doing something productive away from the ball!--but he really shouldn't try threading the needle to a teammate 3 feet away from him, with a crowd of defenders surrounding him. That's not smart basketball.

The Magic's offense struggled tonight in part due to Howard's 9 turnovers, but another component was their inaccuracy from three-point range. Rashard Lewis, who led all scorers with 24 points, sank 5 treys in 10 attempts. His teammates combined to shoot 4-of-21. You might look at the fourth-quarter scoring that helped Orlando get to within striking distance and assume it managed to rally behind timely three-balls, but you'd be wrong. The Raptors couldn't keep their hands to themselves in the fourth quarter and were in the penalty very early on, leaving the door open for Orlando to score without time coming off the clock. The foul situation partially explains how J.J. Redick managed to miss 9 of his 14 shot attempts but still score 22 points.

The errant three-point shooting raised the question of why Ryan Anderson, connecting on 38% of his treys this year and 47% against the Raptors in previous meetings, didn't play at all tonight. I suppose coach Stan Van Gundy wanted to keep the hot-handed Lewis in the game at power forward for as long as possible, and wanted the more athletic Bass to defend Chris Bosh and Amir Johnson. Still, a few minutes with Lewis at small forward--defending Turkoglu, whom he should be able to handle--Anderson and power forward, and Bass at center might have been worth a look. Anderson does a lot of his long-range damage as a trailer in transition, and the Raptors often paid too much attention to dribble-penetration on the Magic's fast breaks, which led to plenty of open fast-break threes. You see where I'm headed here.

So Orlando's effort was there for most of the night, and they capitalized on the Raptors' silly fouls in the fourth quarter. But the Magic simply could not rotate quickly enough on the defensive end, and the Raptors punished them with excellent ball-movement and execution. With combo guard Jarrett Jack, point guard Jose Calderon, and the point forward Turkoglu on the floor together, Toronto found and exploited all the holes in Orlando's defense. 31 assists on 39 shots for Toronto, with the aforementioned trio of ballhandlers tallying 19 itself. The ball rarely "got stuck" in Toronto's offense. Few broken plays, few bad shots, and a lot of player movement. It all added up to a tidy 108 points on 91 possessions and 62.3% effective field goal shooting.

Although the offense struggled tonight, I thought Nelson played another great game. 16 points, 8 assists, and no turnovers in 30 minutes this evening for the team co-captain, who did his best to orchestrate the offense and rarely settled for bad shots. His decision-making has been a bright spot during the losing streak: 22 assists to 3 turnovers in 93 minutes. Solid.

Carter wasn't as solid. 2-of-7 for 7 points, and he can't get anything to fall for him. He's also getting himself into foul trouble, further limiting his effectiveness. I wonder if shutting him down for a game or two would help his recently sprained left ankle, not to mention his shooting stroke.

The Magic have every right to be frustrated right now. On a night when their starters played well, the reserves came up empty. Redick scored 22, yes, and Brandon Bass made the most of his scant playing time--at center, no less, with Marcin Gortat sitting the entire second half--with activity on the offensive low-post. And unlike the last 2 games of the losing streak, it was the defense that struggled. The Magic can't get anything going right now, can't sustain any sort of run or energy. They're all over the place.

Yet it's not time for GM Otis Smith to make a move. Personnel isn't Orlando's problem. And acquiring a new player, via trade or free-agent signing, would only further disrupt a team that needs some balance. The only consistency they've had of late? Consistently goofing in the second and third quarters, with a -38 differential in those periods during this losing streak.

It's a frustrating time for the Magic, who are facing their first meaningful three-game losing streak since the 2007/08 season. Orlando lost 3 in a row near the tail end of last season, largely because they had locked-in the third seed in the Eastern Conference and elected to rest Lewis, Turkoglu, and Howard, who had nagging injuries. Van Gundy needs to find answers, and quickly, because the schedule for the rest of January is a bear. This stretch of 5 straight games against mediocre teams would have been a great opportunity for Orlando to build momentum before embarking on a difficult road trip. Instead, the Magic are 2-3 and fading fast.