This season has been one tough learning experience for the young, inexperienced Orlando Magic.
Sunday night gave them one of their best lessons yet.
The Memphis Grizzlies demonstrated what a top-notch NBA team looks like — and the vast improvement the Magic need to make to reach that point.
Playing without injured starting power forward Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies employed a stifling defense and a balanced offense to crush the Magic 108-82 in front of an announced crowd of 16,020, the smallest crowd to see a regular-season NBA game in Amway Center's three-year history.
"The defense wasn't there tonight; the same old stuff," Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo said.
"We're just a young team who's striving for improvement. At the end of the day, Memphis was down a man — one of their primary players — but they're still on a mission right now. They came in here and handled business as they should."
The Grizzlies (39-19) outplayed the Magic (16-44) in every facet of the game.
In the first half, Memphis players made 17 shots in or just near the restricted circle on 21 attempts, with an alarming number of those point-blank shots occurring within their halfcourt offense. Only two of the Grizzlies' first-half baskets occurred on fastbreaks.
The Magic didn't defend well on the perimeter either. The Grizzlies made 11 of their 24 3-point tries overall.
"You go into a game and you would think maintaining a paint presence would be a priority for us," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "But they started making [outside] shots. The natural instinct is to adjust to them making shots."
The Grizzlies scored 60 first-half points, the third consecutive game the Magic have allowed an opponent to score at least 60 points in the opening half.
On offense, the Magic attempted too many long 2s, the least efficient shot on the court. With Jameer Nelson missing his sixth consecutive game because of a bruised left knee, Orlando failed to find a rhythm.
Some fans booed the Magic when Beno Udrih had a shot blocked by Mike Conley and Conley passed ahead to wide-open Tony Allen for a breakaway dunk.The slam extended Memphis' lead to 68-44 with 4:55 left in the third quarter.
And combo forward Tobias Harris didn't fare well in the fifth game of his Magic tenure.
Although he played energetically on defense, he attempted too many ill-advised shots. One of them, a running 12-footer from the left baseline, hit the side of the backboard.
He finished with six points on 3-of-14 shooting.
"It was an off-night for me personally," Harris said. "It's the NBA. You're going to have nights like that. It's all about how you regroup and come back the next game."
Another game looms tonight against the New Orleans Hornets in Louisiana.
The Magic will try then to put Sunday night's lessons to use.
"The guys, including myself, want to get better," Afflalo said. "No one likes to lose. But there's a lot of habits that have to be instilled, and there's a lot more pride that needs to be taken in what you do. A lot of that stuff comes through some tough circumstances or tough experiences that usually older players have been through. They understand the importance and significance of personal pride and defending the home court and being a good defensive team and camaraderie on the offensive end.
"These are the things that we're still learning. We're still learning. It drifts in and out of the locker room a little bit. We've got a great group of guys, but as a whole, it's something that we're still working on."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun