Sluggish. Uninterested. Lifeless. One could use any or all of those words to describe the Orlando Magic's performance as a whole on Wednesday night.
Tipping it up against the Los Angeles Lakers, arguably the second-worst team in the league, the Magic had a chance to get a momentum-building win. Instead, the Magic found themselves in yet another dogfight, clawing and scratching their way down to the wire.
While the performance as a whole wasn't good -- possibly even their worst of the season -- finding a way to win late is another feather in the Magic's figurative cap. The fact that they were even in the game says something about the progress that the team has made. However, they wouldn't have been in position to win were it not for their bench, which absolutely changed the game.
Five of the six Magic men who played off the bench scored, including double-digit outputs from Shabazz Napier, Nikola Vucevic and Channing Frye word. Without those three -- who combined for 54 of the Magic's 101 points, with 11 more coming from Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon -- the Magic would've been blown out and left searching for even more answers than they already were.
With the injury bug hitting them hard -- the team was already without big man Jason Smith and reserve guard C.J. Watson before Victor Oladipo went down with concussion like-symptoms in the first half -- they needed to dig deep and find contributions from players who might not get the most minutes every night. In Napier's and Frye's cases, tonight was their night to shine and come up big when coach Scott Skiles called their numbers.
The trio of Napier, Frye and Vucevic did it all for the Magic, hitting big shots, tracking down loose balls, and giving them some decent defense in an otherwise poor defensive performance. Apart from those three, Hezonja gave the team some good minutes as well, spreading the floor and getting after it defensively. While he didn't have the impact the others did scoring the ball, the team played some of their best ball with him on the floor, outscoring L.A. by 11 points with the rookie on the floor.
After the game, Coach Skiles, who was generally not pleased with his team's performance, was glad his bench, namely Napier and Frye were able to come up big and hit some shots. "They both made shots. Tonight when we struggled to make shots... So, thank God somebody made some shots."
Frye, who's been relegated to very few minutes after starting much of last year, was very pleased with how the bench played. "I think that's our job as professionals; we have to be ready for anything," he said. "Coach is constantly finding guys to give us sparks and to find a good rhythm. I think that guys that were huge for us tonight were Shabazz [Napier], who haven't gotten a lot of minutes this year.
"We really came in and gave us a great boost. We just try and stay ready. We're just being ready. I think you've got to understand that some games you're not going to play and some games you are, but you've got to be ready for everything and you've got to keep your swag up, as weird as that sounds. You've just got to do whatever it takes to be in shape and be ready."
Napier, who finished with a career-high 22 points, including 12 in the final quarter, shared many of the same sentiments that Frye did. The second-year man said that, regardless of whether he was going to play, he was going to continue to prepare as if he was going to play that night. "If my number gets called, I'm going to go out there and try my best. That's all I can give the team," said the second-year point guard.
Vucevic, who didn't practice on Tuesday, didn't know if he would play until after he went through a workout prior to the game. The fifth-year big man said Skiles used him off the bench because the team had gone through shootaround with Dewayne Dedmon as the starter, and Coach didn't want to deviate from that preparation just before tipoff. Vucevic jokingly said he doesn't foresee a future coming off the bench, adding that he wants "to return to the starting lineup."
Seemingly dead in the water, the Magic's bench gave them a big lift against the Lakers. If it weren't for the trio of Vucevic, Napier and Frye, along with some nice play from Hezonja, the Magic could be looking at their second straight loss, and worst of the early season.
Instead, they're looking to build off of their win with a game against a young, formidable Utah Jazz squad on Friday night.
Wednesday's game wasn't pretty, but when the Magic needed them most, the bench came up big. The team has a long way to go, but it knows it can turn to its reserves to give them a spark.