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Physical play, poor defense plague Magic against Suns

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The Magic struggled with the Suns' physicality all night on Friday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There aren't enough adjectives to describe how the Orlando Magic played on Friday night.

In a game that, for all intents and purposes, was a must win if the team wanted to make a late playoff push, the Magic laid an egg against one of the worst teams in the league. The Phoenix Suns, losers of 30 of 33 coming into the night, laid it on the Magic from the start, playing physical basketball and appearing to be the team that was hunting for a playoff birth rather than the hosts.

While the Magic had some momentum coming into the night after winning two of three, the performance wasn't a shocking one for a team that has consistently laid eggs throughout the season.

After a warm start shooting the ball, shots quickly stopped falling for the Magic, a telling sign of things to come. With shots not falling, the Magic needed to rely on their defense -- the area of the game the team has time, and time again said should be their backbone -- but weren't able to, with players lagging off Suns players from the start, giving them easy, clean looks on many trips.

Phoenix, looking for their first road win in 18 contests, took advantage, knocking down over 50 percent of their shots in the opening quarter, and half.

It wasn't just their offense that helped the Suns, however, with their beaten and battered lineup getting into the Magic and playing physical defense, leading to success on the offensive end. Veteran big man Tyson Chandler, who picked up a flagrant foul in the first quarter for an elbow to the head of Ersan Ilyasova, was one of the most physical, getting under the Magic's skin early and often.

"I told the team when we walked in here that this one was on me."
Nik Vucevic

Nikola Vucevic, who went scoreless in the second half following 15 first half points, took full blame for the loss. "I told the team when we walked in here that this one was on me," said Vucevic. "As the leader on this team, I have to do a better job getting into the game and [defensively on] Alex Len. I'm not taking anything away from him, he had a great game, he played really great...

"I feel that I just wasn't aggressive enough on defense and then he got going. It's hard to stop anybody in the NBA once they get going."

Len, who posted a then career-high 20-point, 14-rebound performance against the Magic in Phoenix, tore them apart once again, finishing with a career-high 31 points to go along with 15 rebounds. Len was the difference maker for a Suns team desperate for a win all night.

Following the game, coach Scott Skiles claimed that the biggest issue for his team was their effort, or lack there of, on the defensive end. "We started the game five, six feet off of them and then on the other end [Ronnie] Price and [P.J.] Tucker were up into us the whole game; we could barely operate. They were much more physical than us and we never really did respond.

"We never returned the favor and got aggressive on the ball, and we let them get going by just letting them shoot a jumper right in our face."

As Skiles pointed out, Len, Chandler, Price and Tucker set the tone for the Suns on the night from a physicality standpoint. "[They] pretty much dominated us," said Skiles.

Aside from their lack of physicality on both ends, the Magic's poor start to the second half was an equally big factor in the loss.

"We just came out sluggish, sleepy and they took advantage," said Vucevic. "They got whatever they wanted and we never responded. We tried a little bit and made a little run here and there but it wasn't enough."

Out of halftime, the Magic missed their first 12 shots, falling behind the Suns by 19 less than three minutes into the quarter. That run to start the half all but ended the game, with the Magic not locking down enough to let their struggling offense have even a glimmer of hope.

"That was ridiculous," said Aaron Gordon when asked about the teams second half performance. "I think we let out offense dictate our defense a little too much. Not being able to put the ball in the hoop kind of zapped out energy on defense and it just makes for a bad run for us."

With a four-game West Coast road trip looming, the Magic are going to need to figure some things out and fast. Their continued lack of effort and allowing their offense to dictate how they play defensively is getting to a point where it's going to cost them a chance, albeit slim, to make the playoffs.

"They came to play and we didn't," said Vucevic, and that simply can't happen more as the Magic wrap up the season.