MILWAUKEE — The Orlando Magic entered their game Monday night on the verge of a modest milestone. A win over the Milwaukee Bucks would’ve given the Magic their 20th win and would’ve equaled their win total from a season ago.
A victory seemed like a certainty after the opening minutes of the second quarter. Orlando dominated Milwaukee. The Magic shared the basketball. They defended aggressively without committing shooting fouls. They avoided turnovers. No wonder the Magic jumped out to a 31-13 lead.
Then everything collapsed.
The Magic lost to the Bucks 105-98, and the end result made it fair to wonder just how much progress the Magic have made since the end of last season.
“Every loss hurts,” center Nik Vucevic said. “It’s no fun to lose. As a competitor, every guy in this locker room wants to win. Nobody likes to lose. It’s been the second season in a row where we’re losing. It’s definitely frustrating for guys. But, to me personally, what frustrates me is that I know we’re better than we’re playing and we’re better than our record is. That’s the frustrating thing.”
Over the game’s final 34 minutes, the Bucks outscored the Magic 92-67.
What went wrong?
In a word: everything.
“Everybody is capable of winning in the NBA,” Magic guard Jameer Nelson said. “This is one I thought we should’ve got and we had our hands on early. But that’s why you’ve got to play 48 minutes. You can’t just say, ‘We’re going to win the game and we’re up by 18 and the game is over.’ It’s not.”
“We didn’t continue to do the same things we did to get the lead, and that was share the ball and help each other on both ends of the court.”
The Bucks (13-50) and Magic (19-46) split their season series at two games apiece. The home team won all of the matchups.
Orlando just can’t gain any traction on the road.
The Magic now have lost 19 of their 20 road games this calendar year.
In Monday’s loss, they suffered from a second consecutive massive free-throw disparity. Milwaukee went 21 for 25 from the line, while the Magic made five of their paltry eight attempts.
Young teams just don’t get calls — or so the theory goes.
The Bucks trot out one of the younger rosters in the NBA — a roster that includes 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, 22-year-olds Khris Middleton, Nate Wolters and Brandon Knight and 23-year-old John Henson.
Knight scored a game-high 24 points.
His point total was deceptive. He needed to take 23 shots from the field and attempt five free throws to produce those 24 points.
But he blew past Magic guards on occasion, and when he did, the defensive help didn’t arrive fast enough.
After Victor Oaldipo was held out of Orlando’s two prior games, he began Monday’s game on the bench and played a total of 19 minutes.
He scored 12 points, grabbed three rebounds, distributed four assists and turned the ball over once.
Oladipo said his left ankle felt OK.
“I just felt like I was kind of slower, a little bit slower, today, like with my reactions, especially on the defensive end,” Oladipo said. “I guess [it was] because I haven’t played in a while. I’ve just got to get back into the flow of things. I’m just glad I played today. I feel a little bit down just because I feel like I let my team down a little bit today.”
The Magic’s deficit grew to 95-81 when Antetokounmpo hit a 3-pointer with 2:50 remaining.
But Orlando fought back, and Nelson hit a 3-pointer with 35.8 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to 97-94.
Milwaukee’s Ramon Sessions countered a few seconds later by making a pair of free throws.
On Orlando’s ensuing possession, Vucevic committed an offensive foul.
With that foul, any remaining hope the Magic had was gone.
“It was a tough game tonight, a bad game for us,” forward Tobias Harris said.
“It was real frustrating. We were up 18 points and playing basketball the right way, and then to just defer 100 percent from that, it’s disappointing.”
Last season, the Magic posted a league-worst 20-62 record.
They now have 17 games remaining to notch a 20th win this season.
If they continue to play like they did in the final three quarters Monday, it will take them a while to reach that modest milestone.
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