Of the many clichés that exist in the NBA, few gain more traction than the sentence, "It's a game of runs."
Players use it. Coaches use it. Broadcasters use it.
They say it because it's true. In the course of a 48-minute game, especially when there's a clear gulf between the elite teams and the cellar-dwellers, stretches of dominance are bound to occur.
But, at some point, if the Orlando Magic want to stop their downward spiral, they must find a way to limit other teams' runs. The Magic's three-game losing streak has been marked by decisive stretches in which they've been outplayed badly by their opponents. Last Wednesday, the Utah Jazz outscored them 10-0 late in the second quarter. On Saturday, the Sacramento Kings reeled off separate 10-2 and 12-2 second-half runs. On Monday, the New York Knicks dominated segments of the second quarter, including a 15-4 tract to end the half.
"We just can't have those type of stretches where we do that," center Nik Vucevic said. "We've just got to stay consistent and play harder. We didn't play hard enough."
To be sure, the Magic often have responded with surges of their own — including a 10-1 run to end their 101-98 road loss on Dec. 15 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Still, a destructive pattern has emerged: Almost every Magic game features at least one stretch in which they lose significant ground.
"Sometimes we find ourselves just out there playing versus playing to win, which is two totally separate things," swingman Arron Afflalo said. "If we get up 12 or 14, we have to make it a lot tougher for teams to even get back into games, so when they do have a run — if they have a run — it's just to even up the score."
The Magic's two games against the Knicks this season turned ugly in the second quarter.
It was indicative of perhaps a larger problem: the struggles of the Magic's second unit, a group that tends to play significant minutes early in the second quarters of games.
The Magic rank 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency overall, limiting opponents to 102.7 points per 100 possessions.
But the Magic's defense tends to be much worse in the second quarter. In that period this season, the team ranks 25th in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to score 104.7 points per 100 possessions, according to the NBA's official statistics database.
"We'll continue to work, but the next step for us is being able to start the game and consistently play with that kind of frenetic effort," coach Jacque Vaughn said.
When asked to pinpoint why the Knicks dominated the second quarter Monday night, Vaughn pointed to one momentum-turning play in which the Knicks recovered an offensive rebound and generated a wide-open 3-pointer seconds later.
"I've talked about that before: As much as this game is physical, the mental part of the game is the toughest," Vaughn said. "It's being able to kind of let that play happen, see the results of it and not let it carry over."
Too often this season, a great play by an opponent has carried over.
"When you're playing down and behind, then you almost have to be perfect," power forward Glen Davis said.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun