ATLANTA — The Orlando Magic's playing rotation underwent a radical transformation over the summer and subsequent renovations throughout the season because of injuries and trades.
But one trend remains the same no matter which five players the Magic put onto the floor.
The Magic just don't generate enough offense to beat the Atlanta Hawks.
Despite the return of center Nik Vucevic from a mild concussion, the Magic fell to the Hawks 97-88 Saturday night at Philips Arena, the 10th consecutive regular-season game the Magic have lost to the Hawks.
"It's just a part of the way they play," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "They're big, strong, physical guys."
The Magic shot just 39.1 percent from the field, made just 16 of their 27 free-throw attempts and committed 19 turnovers.
In short: a recipe for a defeat.
"I thought we battled hard," said power forward Tobias Harris, who finished with 11 points on 5-of-18 shooting. "We were hustling the whole game. It was tough for a lot of our shots to fall, especially around the rim. So it was just a tough night."
Vucevic provided a reason for encouragement.
In his first game since March 19, the night he absorbed a Tyler Hansbrough elbow to his mouth, Vucevic scored 17 points and collected 15 rebounds in 39 minutes.
Best of all for the Magic, Vucevic felt fine afterward. He wore a mouthpiece for the first time since his college days at Southern Cal, and he said it helped him withstand a hit from a Hawks player without suffering any apparent setback.
"I just wanted to get through that first wind," Vucevic said. "Just get through that and then I knew I was going to be fine. I had a couple of good workouts before [in] the last couple of days."
The Magic have followed a similar script throughout their losing streak to the Hawks, which began on Dec. 6, 2010.
The Hawks' size, physicality and athleticism cause the Magic problems.
Josh Smith, the 6-foot-9 combo forward, presents all of those challenges. He runs the floor easily. He jumps well. And he's strong.
Smith spent much of the night guarding Harris. Hawks coach Larry Drew made sure Smith was in the game whenever Vaughn put Harris on the court.
"Just his length, athleticism, his ability to block shots — I'm thinking about him, and I'm not even out there on the floor," Vaughn said of Smith. "Just his ability to come from the weak side, I've got to orchestrate where to get him away from the basketball. So he's a unique individual."
Smith finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
The Magic (19-55) were playing the second game of a back-to-back, but so were the Hawks (41-33).
Orlando was missing Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis due to injuries. But Atlanta was missing Al Horford because of a stomach flu and Zaza Pachulia and Lou Williams because of injuries.
The Magic haven't scored at least 90 points against the Hawks since Nov. 8, 2010.
That also happened to be the last time Orlando beat Atlanta in a regular-season game.
On Saturday, the Hawks received some help from big man Ivan Johnson, who came off the bench to score 21 points — two of them on a highlight-reel dunk over Kyle O'Quinn — and grab 10 rebounds.
"Somebody had to step it up with Al out tonight," Johnson said.
Fans started filing out with 5:46 left on the clock and the Hawks leading 83-73.
They had reason to think the game was over.
A 10-point deficit against the Hawks is a significant deficit for the Magic.
It was again Saturday night.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun