Saturday marked a one-year anniversary that Orlando Magic players and their fans would rather forget.
On Dec. 21, 2012, the team stopped playing like a middling NBA team and started its transformation into a bottom-feeder.
The team began that day with a 12-13 record.
Since then, the Magic have gone 16-68.
The 68th defeat — a 105-100 loss Saturday night to the Sacramento Kings at Amway Center — looked like many of the ones that preceded it. Although the Magic showed signs of competence, they suffered through one stretch so atrocious that it cost them the game.
The Kings began the fourth quarter on an 18-4 run and held on from there.
"One thing we can't do is allow teams to make big runs on us," point guard Jameer Nelson said. "We don't have the type of team right now just to withstand those runs and deliver our punch."
The Magic started the fourth quarter with a 77-75 lead and a young, inexperienced lineup of guards Victor Oladipo and Doron Lamb, forwards Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson and center Kyle O'Quinn on the floor.
But it would be a mistake to blame the horrid stretch entirely on that group of youngsters.
Sacramento was on a 9-2 run when Jacque Vaughn subbed out O'Quinn, Lamb and Harkless and subbed in starters Nik Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Arron Afflalo.
Even with Vucevic, Harris and Afflalo on the court, the Kings outscored the Magic 9-4 to extend their lead to 93-83. The Magic couldn't overcome that deficit.
"It was probably the most obvious, glaring point in the game," Afflalo said. "The next thing you know, they're up 10 or 12. It was, to say the least, extremely disappointing tonight."
It was disappointing because the Magic (8-19) lost a winnable game to the Kings (8-18), who had been blown out the night before in Miami.
Afflalo scored a game-high 26 points, while Harris scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter.
But their performances weren't enough to make up for the Magic's 14-of-23 night from the free-throw line or a defense that allowed the Kings to make half of their shots in the second half.
"We were kicking, punching and bobbling the ball around," Kings coach Michael Malone said. "But we made enough plays obviously to get that win."
After a 6-9 start to this season, the Magic have lost 10 of their last 12 games.
Now, after consecutive home losses to two of the worst teams in the Western Conference, the Magic need to guard against letting the season spiral out of control, even with the bulk of its remaining games against teams from the horrendous Eastern Conference.
"It ain't going to get there," Afflalo said. "I can assure you of that. It's not going to get there. We're not going to have a season where it's out-of-hand and we're not competitive anymore. I don't really care too much about the East being weak or whatever. It's an opportunity for us to move ahead.
"We haven't been playing well from the win-loss perspective, but the reality is we're four or five games out of a comfortable spot in the playoffs. So, if that's what this season calls for, that's how I'm going to approach it. So, it won't get out of hand. There's no reason for it to get out of hand."
Technically, Afflalo is correct. The East is so bad that it's mathematically possible the Magic could squeak their way into the playoff picture.
Then again, the Magic have gone 16-68 over the last calendar year.
"The team that makes the less mistakes wins the ballgame," Magic power forward Glen Davis said. "That's the difference between the teams that are at the top of the totem pole and the ones that are at the bottom. If we want to be on the top, we've got to learn how to play with consistency every day."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun