The Magic, having lost 11 games in a row, needed some confidence to cling to. Something positive as a team to solidify all the individual gains that have been made in the last few weeks. Something to show that the hard work Maurice Harkless and Kyle O'Quinn and Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson have put in as young players with the opportunity given them.
They all turned in solid games once again in Cleveland on Friday night. And the return of Arron Afflalo was a big boost to an offense that has struggled mightily the last few games.
It seemed like things might come together at Quicken Loans Arena with a fast offensive start, a hot shooting game and dominating play inside from Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson. Offense is only half the game. When you struggle to defend without fouling for much of the second half and turn the ball over at an alarmingly high rate, no amount of offense is going to stem the tide.
The Cavaliers were forcing turnovers and turning them into easy points. Marreese Speights turned the tide on the offensive glass in the fourth quarter, charging a 13-0 run from the Cavaliers' bench players that spanned the third and fourth quarters and turned a Magic lead into a Cavaliers comfortable margin.
What was once a back-and-forth game turned into Cleveland taking control and fighting back every Orlando run in a 119-108 victory at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night.
Despite career nights from Vucevic and Nicholson, the key stat for the game were the 16 turnovers the Magic committed and the 41 free throw attempts they gave up. Each of those miscues helped the Cavaliers take and expand their lead and seemed to kill any Magic run late to get back into the game.
Orlando trailed by five late in the fourth quarter, but took a few ill-advised 3-pointers and could not keep Kyrie Irving from converting on the other end. That is somewhat to be expected when you have to rely almost entirely on your starters for the final frame and the other team can afford to keep an All Star like Kyrie Irving on the bench for half the quarter and still maintain the lead.
The Magic could nto get out of their own way to keep pace it seemed.
Orlando committed 19 turnovers, which turned into 22 Cleveland points. More alarmingly in that final quarter, the Magic could not stop fouling. The Cavaliers ended up shooting 41 free throws for the game, making 34. Marreese Speights turned into a superstar in the final quarter, scoring the majority of his 18 points and grabbing many of his five rebounds in the final frame. He shot just 3 of 13 from the floor, but made all 12 of his free throws.
That is certainly not a good sign for the Magic's defense. And it seemed like all of the their 26 fouls turned into points of some kind for the Cavaliers. As good as the offense was all night, the history of this team this season certainly suggested that at some point it would wane and lead to troubles.
That happened late in the third quarter when Cleveland started that 13-0 run.
Until then, though, there was little for Orlando to complain about on the offensive end of the floor. The Magic shot 52.3 percent from the floor and got a career-high 25 points and 13 rebounds from Nikola Vucevic. Arron Afflalo scored 23 points in his first game back in nearly two weeks, making 6 of his first 8 shots and 9 of 17 overall. Andrew Nicholson had 21 points and eight rebounds.
Jameer Nelson added 15 points and 13 assists as Cleveland did a good job trying to deny him the ball and keep him from initiating Orlando's offense. It worked to some extent as he committed six turnovers, the same number as the entire Cavaliers team. Nelson started off hitting only 2 of his first 10 shots, but caught fire in the fourth quarter as Orlando tried to stay in the game and close the gap.
It was not quite enough. Not with the defense struggling to keep the Cavaliers off the foul line at key moments and not with Kyrie Irving on the other end of the floor.
The Magic could not string together enough plays to eke out a win on the road. And an opportunity slipped through their fingers.
That makes 12 losses in a row and 23 of the last 25.