The momentum the Orlando Magic built on their West Coast road trip evaporated Wednesday night.
The Atlanta Hawks brought the Magic back to earth by dominating most of the first quarter and by converting one turnover after another into easy points.
And after the Magic fell to the Hawks 86-80 in front of 16,992 people, the smallest announced crowd to see a regular-season game at Amway Center, one of the team's veteran leaders said something has to change.
"You have to compete to get energy in the building, to get your juices going," said shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who scored a team-high 16 points. "We have to do something, whether it's pick [it] up defensively maybe to get our legs going or something.
"But we cannot afford to sleepwalk into the game. That falls a lot on the guys who start the game more so than anybody. The coaches can't do it for us, and obviously the guys coming off the bench can't do it. So, for the five guys that do start, we have to make some changes to something we do to get us more in an aggressive mindset."
The Magic have reason to be upset at themselves.
The Hawks jumped out to a 16-2 lead midway through the first quarter — the eighth time in 21 games this season an opponent has built a double-digit lead in the opening period.
And the Hawks led 20-15 after the quarter — the 17th time this season an opponent outscored the Magic in the first period.
"It's killing us," power forward Glen Davis said.
The continued slow starts are leaving the Magic (8-13) exhausted at the ends of games. They expend so much energy to battle back that they often lack that extra gear late in games.
How do they change things?
"I don't know," said sixth man J.J. Redick. "I don't know. I don't know. Honestly, that's not something that I can control necessarily. I'm worried about how we finish the game, the [end of the] first quarter, second quarter, all that stuff."
The Magic committed 16 turnovers, and the more athletic Hawks converted those miscues into 24 points.
The game reminded Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn of his team's game against Atlanta on Nov. 19. That night, the Magic turned the ball over 19 times, resulting in 24 Hawks points.
Wednesday's loss extended the Magic's regular-season losing streak to the Hawks to eight games.
"We didn't want this crowd to be involved in the game and give them confidence early," said Hawks power forward Josh Smith.
Atlanta (13-6) gave the crowd few opportunities to cheer, especially early.
During the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, the Magic exploited matchup advantages over the Hawks. But the key advantages now belong to the Hawks, whose center, Al Horford, and Smith, are more dynamic and explosive than their Magic counterparts, Nik Vucevic and Davis.
Horford scored 13 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
Smith scored 16 points, collected 11 rebounds and blocked five shots.
Davis, meanwhile, scored 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
"I wasn't here today, point blank," Davis said. "I didn't show up today."
Neither did most of the Magic. They made just 38 percent of their shots.
"The guys that are starting the game need to change the way they play, which includes myself," said Afflalo, who had three turnovers.
"The way we start the game has to just be with a lot more energy," Afflalo added later. "One of us next game will take it upon ourselves to make sure that happens. You can't predict the score or making shots, so it's hard to say we're going to make shots in the first quarter. But next game, we will play with more focus and passion in the first quarter."
If that happens, the Magic can regain some of the momentum they lost Wednesday.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun