The Orlando Magic are discovering how fragile an NBA offense can be.
Lacking a go-to scorer or someone who can create shots on his own, the Magic need their offense to operate in-sync in the half court in order to generate points. Ball movement, sharp cuts, decisive screens, precise spacing and unselfish play must be the norm, not exceptions. And on the rare occasions these days that the Magic find a rhythm and generate open shots, they miss too often.
The Magic's deficiencies were on full display Wednesday night in a 92-87 loss to the struggling Phoenix Suns.
"I could sit here and say we missed a lot of shots," forward Jeff Green said. "But the ball gets stagnant. We try to make plays on our own."
Orlando made only 36 percent of its shots against one of the league's worst defenses — a defense that didn't even have its top defensive center, Tyson Chandler.
"Frustrating," Magic swingman Evan Fournier said. "We've got to find ways to score the basketball, period. I thought we played pretty good defense. That's a team that scores a lot of points and we keep them [at] 92. A good job defensively once again. That's probably the positive thing about tonight: We are definitely getting better defensively. But, clearly, the offense is the problem right now."
The dire preseason predictions about how the Magic would struggle offensively have been correct. Although the Magic added big men Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, point guard D.J. Augustin and Green during the offseason, only Ibaka and Augustin have scored consistently. Team officials hoped their trade for shooting guard Jodie Meeks would bring some shooting, but a setback with Meeks' right foot has prevented him from playing.
Ibaka, Biyombo and Green provided almost nothing offensively against the Suns. Ibaka scored just five points, and Green and Biyombo were held scoreless.
Fournier scored a game-high 25 points, while center Nikola Vucevic snapped out of his slump to contribute 21 points. Augustin added 12 points off the bench.
Coach Frank Vogel searched a spark to breathe life into the offense. He played Augustin a little longer than usual in the fourth quarter. Vogel even started the fourth quarter with swingman Mario Hezonja on the floor even though Hezonja hadn't played in five of Orlando's previous six games.
"We don't work hard enough to get open, screen well enough to get open and read [defenses] well enough to create open shots for teammates," Vogel said. "And we're not shooting the ball well enough."
The Suns (5-11) ended a six-game road trip that also had taken them to Oakland, Denver, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Washington.
Phoenix players should have been road weary, especially since Chandler missed his fourth consecutive game following the death of his mom and small forward T.J. Warren missed his third straight game because of a minor head injury.
Instead, the Suns looked energized. Their bench piped up every time a teammate made a good play.
"This was a must-win for us," said Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe, who scored 16 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out five assists and made crucial baskets down the stretch.
Early on, the Magic (6-9) sleep-walked on the court and looked disengaged on their bench.
The team should know it's in the midst of an important stretch.
"We've got to get it going now if we want to be there in the picture by February, by March, April," Green said. "We've got to correct things now."
Wednesday opened a three-game home stand that will include games against the Washington Wizards on Friday and the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
On Monday, the Magic will leave for a five-game road trip to face the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons and Wizards.
Translation: The Magic need to pick up as many wins as possible at home before they leave Central Florida.
"These are the games that might leave you out of the playoffs, that one game that you look back and say, 'We wish we could have done better,'" Biyombo said. "We've all got to figure this out."
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.