The Orlando Magic dropped their second consecutive home game Friday night, falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 109-100, despite leading by as much as 14 points in the first quarter. The victory is Cleveland's fifth in its last six games. The Cavaliers secured the win on the strength of a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter.
"They had shot-makers," coach Jacque Vaughn said after the game. "At the end of the day, that's what the NBA is about: being able to cause the defense to react [and] put the ball in the bucket. And Dion Waiters was able to do it, and Kyrie [Irving] was able to do it down the stretch."
Waiters scored 16 of his 21 points in the final frame, while Irving finished the night with a game-high 31 points, 27 of which he posted in the first three quarters.
Here's a look at the stories that developed Friday.
The Magic welcomed Tobias Harris back to the lineup Friday. The third-year forward played in just his second game of the season, checking in at the 1:23 mark of the first quarter. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting with five rebounds and two assists.
"It's a good step on the right direction from the last time I got out on the floor," Harris said of his performance Friday, seated in a chair in front of his locker with his left foot soaking in a blue bucket of ice. "I felt something after the game. It feels good now, so that's a good sign."
Harris sustained a high-ankle sprain in his left ankle in Orlando's preseason victory against the Dallas Mavericks on October 14th. He didn't play again until November 24th against the Phoenix Suns, but reinjured the ankle that night and has had to sit out since.
Harris said his wind "felt good" against Cleveland. "I've been working on my conditioning. Through each and every game it's just gonna get better and better," he said. The most difficult part about his transition back to playing is "being able to sustain that energy and not worry about my ankle and just go out there and just play."
Glen Davis is happy to see Harris back. "Tobias played great tonight," Orlando's starting power forward said. "I was so happy for him." Harris' return takes some pressure off Orlando's other offensively-minded players, according to Davis.
"He's a scorer. He can score the basketball," Davis said. "It won't just be me or Arron [Afflalo] or Jameer [Nelson]. He can definitely bring something to the table, scoring-wise, and also his defensive knowledge, the way he plays defense, can help us."
Counting Friday's game, the Magic rank 24th in offensive efficiency with 99.2 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats. There's no doubt that Harris, Orlando's leading scorer in 2012/13, will help on that end of the floor.
Since the injury, Harris has switched from wearing a low-cut Nike sneaker--the Kobe Bryant signature model--to a mid-cut one. He described the measure as a "precaution" and said he made the switch because his mother and father were concerned that his continuing to wear low-tops could lead to another injury.
A late flagrant-two foul by Magic forward Andrew Nicholson delayed the game's conclusion at least five minutes as the officiating crew reviewed the play on video to assess a penalty. With 10.2 seconds to play, Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejão took an uncontested and meaningless layup in the open floor. Nicholson appeared to take exception to the play and delivered a two-handed shove to the hips of the veteran big man, sending him crashing to the court, where he lingered for several moments in pain. After the video review, the referees ejected Nicholson, an automatic outcome after the assessment of the flagrant-two.
"I didn't mean to hurt him. I didn't try to hurt anybody," Nicholson said, "and I don't think I pushed him that hard. It's part of the game."
Vaughn saw the play as "a progression of Andrew's mentality" and speculated that Nicholson was upset that Cleveland was trying to run up the score, though he did not use that exact term: "I think his thought process was, 'they could have dribbled the basketball out.'" The Magic head coach pointed toward Nicholson's double-digit rebounding total--Nicholson had 10 caroms, second on the team only to Nik Vučević's 13--as evidence that Nicholson has changed his approach to the game for the better.
Davis offered a measured take on the situation.
"He's on the other team," the Magic big man said of Varejão. "You can't expect them to have a certain courtesy. They're trying to beat us, you know what I mean? [....] [You] can't worry about what the other team does; You just gotta go out there and make sure you do what you need to do."
Davis didn't play at all in the fourth quarter, while Nicholson played all but 10 seconds of the period.
"I think as we get healthy the thing that we'll be faced with a lot is who we're gonna finish the game with," Vaughn said. "That's just a part of basketball. I thought Andrew had a physicality that he was playing with. I thought defensively he was good, he was putting up resistance. His ability to space the floor for us was good on the offensive end."
Because he sat the entire fourth quarter, Davis' numbers look muted: he tallied six points and four rebounds in 23 minutes. He politely declined to comment on how the Magic's return to full health would affect his minutes going forward.
With Harris healthy and back in the lineup, the Magic had to deactivate someone to make room for him on the active roster. That person was Solomon Jones.
In 10 appearances, Jones has averaged 1.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per game, shooting 37.5 percent from the field. The Mount Dora native earned the Magic's final roster spot out of training camp. His contract does not become fully guaranteed until January 10th, according to ShamSports' salary database.