The Orlando Magic seemed outmanned from the jump Sunday night.
Two starters sat out because of injuries. The Phoenix Suns fielded a rugged, more experienced frontcourt. The Magic even failed to sell out a regular-season home game for the first time since Jan. 6, 2009.
But the Magic defied expectations again.
Fueled by balanced scoring and a defense that eventually clogged the paint, the Magic recovered from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter and beat the Suns 115-94.
"This was a gutsy effort by the men in that locker room," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "I'm extremely proud of them."
An announced crowd of 17,022 inside Amway Center watched five Magic players score in double figures.
J.J. Redick scored a team-high 24 points, while Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis added 22 points apiece.
Nik Vucevic notched the first double-double of his Magic tenure, scoring 18 points and collecting 13 rebounds. But Vucevic, a youngster not known for his defense, also helped stifle Suns power forward Luis Scola in the second half.
"There's a whole different feeling," said Davis, who dished out five assists. "You've got to be here to feel it. You've got to be in every practice to feel it. There's no agendas. There's no 'I.' It's a team. It's a great feeling when the team comes together and wins in spite of [its shortcomings]."
Those deficiencies initially seemed too significant to overcome.
The Suns (1-2) shredded the Magic defense throughout the first quarter. One of Orlando's strengths in its opener — its ability to keep opponents out of the lane and prevent close-range shots — suddenly became a glaring weakness.
Scola, Marcin Gortat, Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic scored on layups, tip-ins and runners. In all, Phoenix scored 20 of its 33 first-quarter points in the paint.
The Magic (2-0) had reason to be unsettled on defense.
Point guard Jameer Nelson and small forward Hedo Turkoglu sat out because of injuries, and their absences prompted Vaughn to elevate second-year guard E'Twaun Moore and rookie wing DeQuan Jones into the starting lineup.
The Suns' tall frontcourt — 6-foot-9 Scola, 6-foot-10 Beasley and 6-foot-11 Gortat — caused problems, especially after Davis picked up a pair of fouls in the first quarter.
But the Magic stabilized themselves. They allowed just 18 points in the paint after the first quarter.
"One thing we did was we really crowded the paint more," Vucevic said. "We really helped each other a lot."
The Magic offense started to click after halftime.
Trailing 68-54 with 8:17 left in the third period, the Magic finished the quarter on a 32-8 run.
Afflalo hit a reverse layup off a pass from Davis, and Davis scored Orlando's next two baskets on jumpers from 18 feet and 16 feet.
Vucevic hit a 5-footer, and then he followed a miss by Moore with a dunk.
"It might be better for them that they don't have Dwight Howard," Beasley said. "Their all-around scoring is better."
The Magic took a 76-75 lead on a Vucevic tip-in with 3:02 left in the third. They never trailed again.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Afflalo said. "It was two wins, but the manner in which we won is a good sign — that we can take that competitive spirit to the next level."
The road will grow tougher in the days ahead.
A game against the Chicago Bulls in Chicago looms on Tuesday, followed the next night by a matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis.
"We're going to have a lot of challenges," Redick said. "One of the things a young group has to understand is we're going to go through some difficult times in a season."
So far, the Magic have overcome those tough times.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun