Up by eight around the midway point of the final quarter, things were looking good for the Orlando Magic to tip off their season with an important victory over the visiting Washington Wizards. What followed was the team crumbling as it turned the ball over and missed shots on possession after possession, allowing the Wiz to take the lead in the blink of an eye. The young, resilient Magic didn't quitm however, firing a 9-0 run of their own to counter the Wizards' 12-0 run.
The Magic's response to that run comes as a great sign even though they eventually fell to the more experienced Wizards by a technical knockout. Needless to say, it was a disappointing start to the season for a Magic bunch with high aspirations going into the season.
The tough loss was yet another gut check for the Magic, who have had their fair share of difficult losses since their rebuilding effort began.
Despite the loss, the team has a lot they can build off of moving forward. After a few poor stretches defensively in the first quarter, the hosts tightened things up, holding the visiting Wizards to just 56 points in the final three quarters of action.
Coach Scott Skiles seemed pleased with his team's defense overall, especially after the halftime break. "Other than a stretch in the first quarter, from halftime on we played pretty solid defense the whole second half," said the Magic's head man. "We had a little bit of a stretch in the first half, it usually revolved around not getting back [on defense]. We dunked the ball, celebrated, they laid the ball in the other end, things like that."
Orlando's play on the defensive end was a welcome sight, despite their inability to get a key stop late when they so desperately needed it. After Orlando built a five-point lead, the Wizards scored the last six points of the game, including a close range shot from John Wall, that eventually wound up being the game winner.
Following the game, the players were clearly disappointed in the final outcome. Nikola Vucevic claimed the loss was "tough", with Victor Oladipo acknowledging that the team had positives that they can build off of, and some negatives that they can continue to work on and grow from.
"We've had a lot of those [close games] and we've just got to learn from it and we've got to find a way to finish those games," said Vucevic. "We're going to have a lot of close games. There's a lot of good teams in this league, and if you're not going to blow out teams, you're going to have to win these type of games if we want to get to where we want to be. It's a tough one, especially when you have the lead and you have control of the game and you have to finish the game but you don't do it."
Despite the tough loss, Vucevic was pleased with how the team did defensively. "Our defense was always there. We held them to 87 or 88 points, and that's pretty good against a team like that, especially this year when they really want to try and run. I think it was a good defensive effort. The first half not as much, but the second half we definitely made some big plays."
Oladipo felt that the team's biggest positive was their ability to overcome adversity within the game. "When they went on their runs, we came up, we attacked them, and we got back in the game," he said after leading Orlando with 17 points. "A lot of positive things to say, but we've just got to make it happen now. Like I said, we play in 48 hours and another playoff team, one of the best teams in the West, so we've got to be ready to play."
While the loss was a tough one, the Magic will be able to learn from it. Even though they don't want to use it as an excuse anymore, the team is still young, and needs more time to jell on both ends of the floor in the new systems that Coach Skiles is implementing.
It's just one game, but the Magic showed signs of potential long-term sustainability on both ends of the floor. Now, they just need to shore up their late-game issues, which will be the next step in their continuing growth.