Maybe there was not a lot anyone could expect from a Magic team playing without Dwight Howard. Maybe Orlando was ultimately doomed against a team featuring near-All Star LaMarcus Aldridge and a bevy of aggressive wings out on the perimeter salivating to attack a Magic team without a true center.
Maybe all this is true. What happened Monday night suggests it was not.
Orlando hung tough -- very tough -- against Portland, a team that is in the thick of an ever-narrowing Western Conference, and had a chance to win. Perhaps Dwight Howard's absence made a difference defensively as the Trail Blazers went on a 9-0 run with three field goals coming within three feet and one made 3-pointer. Portland held on to the 8-point lead and took an 89-85 victory over Orlando at Amway Center on Monday.
The Magic did not were not able to execute during that stretch after fighting back to take a one-point lead with 7:22 to play. Orlando would miss four of its next five shots as Portland stretched its lead. Even though Portland made its final shot with one minutes to play, Orlando could not execute late. Hedo Turkoglu missed a driving layup going to his right. Gilbert Arenas did a good job saving the ball, but Turkoglu was not ready in the corner for his desperate pass to the win. It was the final of Orlando's 18 turnovers.
The final possession could be called a disaster as Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark all passed up decent looks at the basket before Richardson finally hoisted and missed a 3-pointer with two seconds to play. Down four, whether it went in or not, would not have likely mattered.
"Tonight, we had a great opportunity to win," Ryan Anderson said. "We fought until the end. It shows obviously that we are a fighting, and we are not going to let a game like this frustrate us and quit, I guess. I thought we did a decent job having a shot at the end."
The Magic had no quit in them, playing hard and with energy for most of the night. The Trail Blazers, even with a sizeable advantage on the inside, were put a little on their heels as the Magic double teamed LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points, seven rebounds) throughout the night.
It took a little while for Portland to adjust. The Blazers were getting wide open looks from long range for most of the evening, but struggled to really take advantage. Portland finished shooting 43.2 percent and 8 for 25 from the floor. Orlando's 106.0 offensive rating is not stellar, but still pretty good considering the team was without its defensive stalwart to turn drivers and anyone else away. A lot of Portland's 25 3-point attempts came off drive and kicks caused by Orlando collapsing on Aldridge.
Luckily for the Magic, the Trail Blazers hit only eight of those attempts. The misses certainly kept Orlando in the game.
But the Magic did not help themselves. And with the margin for error so small without Howard in there, hurting yourself could not be an option. The 18 Magic turnovers -- 12 in the first half as Portland built its largest lead of the game to 14 points -- erased a solid night overall for Orlando.
"This one was as easy to explain as the Bulls game was," Stan Van Gundy said. "We were a little bit better than them in every area, but we had 19 turnovers and they had nine. Everything else we played fine. We can't take care of the ball, ball game. It has been an ongoing problem, we are one of the higher turnover teams in the league. We either take care of the ball better or we are going to struggle."
Indeed Orlando struggled to take care of the ball. The team had 12 turnovers in the first half and it seemed to keep Orlando from completing its comeback and finally taking the lead. The Magic had five of their six second-half turnovers in the fourth quarter. Although it led to only two points, they were missed opportunities to get back into the game.
"We weren't taking care of the ball," Jason Richardson said. "They were really long, they do a great job on the help side. They kept reaching in and knocking the ball out of our hands. You can't win the game when you have 18 turnovers. I think that was the change in the game that is why we lost."
Orlando dug themselves a bit of a hole early in the third quarter giving up a 13-4 run and missing seven of its first nine shots in the half. Richardson came alive to pull Orlando back from the edge, scoring 12 points on a perfect 4 for 4 from the field, including two 3-pointers. He finished with 22 for the game.
Gilbert Arenas also came alive to bring the Magic back to within four at the end of the third quarter. Arenas scored seven points, committing just one turnover.
But as Van Gundy pointed out, a lot of Arenas' strong play was negated by his turnovers and mistakes. He had three miscues in the fourth quarter and six for the game. Coming from the point guard, the point guard who ended up closing the game, that hurt as the Magic could not execute late and close out the game.
"I thought at times we played pretty well," Van Gundy said. "We shot a decent percentage. If you look, other than Jameer nobody had a bad shooting night. I thought our ball movement got better as the game went on and we just turned the ball over way too much. When there is a 10 turnover differential, you can't just play well, you have to do something phenomenally to make up a 10-turnover differential."
Van Gundy pointed out Howard was not likely to help Orlando in the turnover department. The Magic may have revealed some of their character in playing without Howard, but again may have shown a weakness that will be difficult to cover up.
The upcoming West Coast trip will reveal a lot about Orlando.