You thought, at one point, that this team would finally make the playoffs. Unfortunately, those hopes were only further diminished as the Orlando Magic suffered their third bad loss in a row, falling to the Sacramento Kings 111-95. Nikola Vucevic, who you thought would be an All-Star, was the best player for the Magic, with 18 points and 13 rebounds in just 25 minutes. He shot 50%, while the team as whole only hit 37% of their shots.
De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 20 points and 5 steals, adding more fuel to the Kings’ surprise success season, the kind you thought the Magic were having. Those steals were part of the turnover problems that plagued the Magic all night, leading to 27 points for Sacramento.
You thought the Magic might be in position to hang tight with the Kings through the first 10 minutes of the game, playing solid enough defense and getting to the line 13 times in the quarter to compensate for their poor shooting. You were disappointed, although probably not surprised, when both the defense and the free throws vanished, allowing the Kings to run up a significant lead in the second quarter.
D.J. Augustin, whose surprising success you thought would mask the Magic’s point guard problems, was just 1-6 and struggled to deal with the Kings’ athleticism and speed. Aaron Gordon also struggled, especially with his shot selection, a collection of stepbacks and fadeaways as part of a 3-13 shooting night. Jonathon Simmons, who somebody must have thought would fix the Magic’s point guard problems, scored 0 points.
Steve Clifford, a coach you thought was producing results with his hard-nosed attitude, said after the game that “You guys see the numbers. We have struggled when D.J.’s out of the game. We’ve struggled when Vuc is out of the game.” You thought the players were good enough, with the right encouragement, and you thought the team had adopted Clifford’s “toughness.”
You thought, in a weak Eastern Conference, that the Magic had a chance to push for the 8th seed, and you were excited when they bounced back from a 2-6 start to the season. You’re probably going to be upset when the team isn’t tanking properly in March and April, taking close wins over other lousy teams and pushing themselves from 4th or 5th to 6th or 7th.
I thought a lot of these things, too, for a little while. Not so much, anymore.