The Orlando Magic battled hard Thursday night, but nonetheless fell to the Toronto Raptors, 97-95, as Toronto swingman DeMar DeRozan beat the buzzer with a long, well-contested two-point basket. The loss is Orlando's 15th in its last 17 games, and it's got the Magic wondering what went wrong, and looking at reasons for optimism.
"I just think the basketball gods are against us right now," Magic guard J.J. Redick said. "They've turned their backs on us and we need to get back in their good graces."
Redick said one takeaway from Thursday's loss is that the team defended better.
"I think tonight was a step--a loss can be a step in the right direction--and it was because we competed the whole game," Redick said. He recalled the Raptors' last visit to Orlando, which game ended in a 35-point loss for the Magic as Toronto shot 15-of-27 on threes. "I think there was less confusion [defensively] than... the last time they played here, they just drilled us. Our defense was better tonight."
Jacque Vaughn also admired how well his team competed, especially at the defensive end.
"I thought there were multiple times throughout the course of the game where we got multiple stops in a row," the first-year head coach said. "That's what we want to focus on is being able to get stops on demand. We were able to do that multiple times throughout the course of the night and that's the basketball we need to see every night."
Redick hasn't given up on the prospect of the Magic, whose 14-28 record places them 12th in the Eastern Conference, earning a postseason trip. "I know we had a couple good runs earlier in the year," he said after heaving a sigh. "I don't wanna say that it's out of reach yet. I'm not ready to say that. I'm an optimist."
"Hey, J.J., it's alright. They gonna be lovin' us soon," Glen Davis called across Orlando's locker room as Redick addressed the media. "I know," Redick said. "We're goin' on that 10-game win streak goin' into All-Star Break."
One reporter confronted Arron Afflalo, who always takes losses hard, with the possibility that Orlando is already out of the playoff chase with 40 games remaining. "You just show up and play," Afflalo said. "You always like to keep hope, but the significant changes that needed to take place for us to become a playoff-type team aren't happening fast enough, and the teams that we have the opportunity to maybe catch in the lower seeds will keep pushing."
Another reporter asked Afflalo, point-blank, how he's feeling.
"Not good, man," he said, and it's easy to understand why. Despite whatever improvements Orlando made defensively--and it still gave up 97 points on 50 percent shooting in a home game--it's won just twice since December 20th and now has two losses for each of its wins. Perhaps Redick is right, and this long, bleak stretch is simply the basketball gods frowning on the Magic.
Whatever the reason, Orlando has found wins few and far between of late. Reserve guard E'Twaun Moore isn't letting that fact get him down.
"We still have that spirit that we're going to win every game we go into. [We] just have to keep that attitude," he said.