Only one of the Orlando Magic's losses, a 35-point home drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, during their current 10-game slide wasn't competitive. In the other nine, Orlando has hung tough, only to fall in the fourth quarter or overtime. That dynamic played out most recently in Wednesday's loss to the Denver Nuggets, wherein the Magic began the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead.
One factor behind Orlando's surprisingly strong 12-13 start was its excellent fourth-quarter finishing lineup. The fivesome consisted of Jameer Nelson at point guard, J.J. Redick and Arron Afflalo on the wings, and Glen Davis and Nikola Vučević up front. Davis sprained his left shoulder on December 19th and hasn't played since, and Orlando is winless without the veteran big man. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has juggled his rotation in the interim, and eventually settled on Josh McRoberts as Davis' replacement in that finishing group. The results have not borne fruit.
Understand that the Davis finishing lineup was the league's best: through the time he got injured, the only lineup with a better efficiency differential in fourth quarters was the Los Angeles Clippers' second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, and Ronny Turiaf, which tended to play during blowouts; that group outscored its fourth-quarter opponents by 35.6 points per 100 possessions in 73 fourth-quarter minutes. Orlando's group, which played in more high-leverage situations, trounced its opponents b 28.3 points per 100 fourth-quarter possessions during the same span.
With McRoberts replacing Davis, the dynamic has changed on both ends of the floor. Orlando's opponents have outscored it by 22.8 points per 100 possessions with McRoberts in Davis' place among the finishing lineup.
Davis' return is up in the air, and with Gustavo Ayón sidelined with a bruised right thigh, Vaughn doesn't have many options for a second big to pair with Vučević. Rookie forward Andrew Nicholson has started at power forward seven times since Davis went down, but it's clear that Vaughn trusts McRoberts more at the defensive end. Rookie center Kyle O'Quinn is also a work in progress defensively, and though the 6-foot-10 small forward Hedo Türkoğlu could shift to power forward if needed, he's yet to work himself into game shape since returning from a 28-game layoff due to surgery on his left hand. Türkoğlu did not play at all in Wednesday's defeat.
Until the Magic's reserve bigs return to health, Vaughn doesn't have much of a choice other than to ride with McRoberts.
NBA.com provided statistical support for this post.