With Blazers star Brandon Roy out with a sore hamstring and Vince Carter making a surprise return from his shoulder injury of a week ago, things seemed to be in the Magic's favor as they continued their West Coast trip in Portland on Friday. Dwight Howard was surely licking his lips knowing that both of Portland's centers -- Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla -- were out for the game, leaving an undersized front line to deal with Howard.
Things are never that easy in the NBA.
The shots did not fall for Orlando as the team scored 32 points in the first half and dug itself a pretty hefty hole. Portland, on the other hand, seemingly could not miss as they hit on 11 of 21 3-point attempts and easily held off Orlando 102-87.
The Magic just did not have the right effort to win this one. While LaMarcus Aldridge was diving all over the floor for loose balls and outworking Orlando for offensive rebounds, Orlando was slow on rotations to shooters and could never get over the hump enough to make a serious run. The Magic cut the lead to 12 early in the second half, but soon the Blazers built the lead back up.
Aldridge really played a superb game as he took advantage of Rashard Lewis guarding him, displaying his jump shot as well as his rebounding ability. Aldridge shot only 7 of 17 from the floor, so Lewis did not do a horrible job. But his 14 rebounds, five offensive, really proved to be part of the difference as the Magic could not overcome a slow start. Orlando shot 47.9 percent for the game, but the team was shooting in the mid-30s for much of the game.
Lewis, again in his defense, looked much more aggressive on offense in leading the Magic with 15 points. He certainly got his shots in this game as he hit 7 of 15 and instead of settling for 3-pointers, he shot only five Friday, he took it to the hole and tried to create for others.
As the ESPN broadcast team continually pointed out, Orlando got decent looks but could not get them to fall. The Magic shot an icy 7 of 30 from beyond the arc, contributing to the large deficit. It was not until the fourth quarter when the team started doing what it should have been doing all along -- pump fake and drive off of 3-point attempts and keep working for a better shot.
Too little, too late.
The driving was even somewhat inconsequential as Orlando shot an unacceptable 10 of 20 from the line. Half of that was Dwight Howard shooting 3 of 10 at the charity stripe.
Howard's poor free throw shooting contributed to his inability to get involved on offense. Howard went long stretches without touching the ball and that simply cannot happen for Orlando to be successful. Howard finished with just seven shot attempts (making four). With all the missed free throws, there were a lot of momentum-building points left on the board.
Vince Carter was also ineffective, shooting one for seven. Not a great comeback.
The one bright spot was perhaps the play of the bench. JJ Redick, Marcin Gortat, Ryan Anderson and Jason Williams did their best to keep Orlando in the game. Those four players posted the only positive +/- number of anyone on the team (and technically Redick and Gortat did not even do that as they played to a draw with Portland). They played hard and did their jobs to keep the Magic within relative striking distance early in the second quarter.
Clearly, though, it was not enough and Stan Van Gundy has to be considering tinkering with some of the lineups to get the energy these guys bring into the game earlier.
It is clear (as I think it has been for a few seasons now), Orlando gets its defensive energy from its offense. The offense played poorly because it was forced to take jumpers and could not get Howard involved. The defense was simply not there to support the team.
The Magic have to be licking their wounds now as they have fallen out of the lead in the Southeast Division thanks to Jamal Crawford's buzzer beater of the Suns.