ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s a world of difference between playing in the Final Four and playing in the fourth quarter of a game where your team has no chance of coming back to win.
Doron Lamb has experienced both.
Two years after helping Kentucky to a national championship, and with the current crop of Wildcats heading toward a semifinal matchup this weekend against Wisconsin, Lamb had the thankless task Wednesday night of trying to keep the Orlando Magic from getting trounced too badly by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 22-year-old backup guard wound up scoring eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, when the Magic actually outscored the Cavs 30-25.
"Just don’t worry about the score. Just go out there and play hard and try to earn minutes," Lamb said after the Magic’s most one-sided defeat in more than two months, a 119-98 setback to a team trying to claim the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Except for rookie Victor Oladipo, Lamb finished with more points than anyone on the Magic. Of the five starters who were rested for the entire fourth quarter by coach Jacque Vaughn, only Maurice Harkless scored in double figures, and he barely managed that with 10.
Lamb knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, with the last of those pulling the Magic to within 10 points of the lead. But the Cavs were up by 23 by the time he connected again.
"That’s my role on the team," said Lamb, who also hit three 3-pointers last week in a victory over Portland.
The problem for the Magic was that the Cavs had players who could fill it up from long range as well. And neither answered to the name of Kyrie Irving, who was spectacular enough simply getting to the rim in his return from a biceps strain.
Spencer Hawes, a 7-footer with unusual shooting range, went 4 of 7 from 3-point range while Dion Waiters made all three of his attempts.
It turned out there were more problems for the Magic than that. One look at the points in the paint, where the Cavs held a whopping 64-32 advantage, was enough to make Tobias Harris crumple the postgame stat sheet in disgust as he sat in his locker.
"Terrible, terrible," he said. "It’s self-explanatory. That’s not how we want to play. That just shows no effort."
"Coming into the game, we’ve been pretty aggressive as a team," Vaughn said. "We’ve had a great physicality about ourselves. There are games throughout the course of the year where you just don’t have it. And when it’s coupled with a team like the Cavs, when they had it tonight, it clearly wasn’t a good mix for us."
The last time the Magic were beaten this badly came in a 120-94 loss Jan. 11 at Denver. That game also represented the season high in scoring for an opponent in the first half — that is, until the Cavs put up 35 points in each of the first two quarters.
Lamb, Oladipo, Harris, E’Twaun Moore and recent signee Dewayne Dedmon all played the final 12 minutes of what Vaughn refuses to label as garbage time.
"I’m looking all the way until that horn sounds," Vaughn said. "That’s the part of the game you have to be focused on, whether you’re down or not. I said that in the fourth quarter, I was not going to look at the scoreboard. I wanted to see who was going to be disciplined enough to play every possession."
"I approached the game the way I always do, just come ready to play, play defense and hit shots," Lamb said. "And I did that today."
Lamb, who had seen hardly any playing time during the first two months of the season, has now gotten in eight games in a row as his conditioning and preparation before, during and after practice has improved.
"He’s done a good job of getting better every day in practice," Vaughn said. "Good minutes for him tonight."
As for his old school, Lamb is taking something of a superstitious approach toward Kentucky’s unexpected run.
"I haven’t talked to them yet," he said. "I’m letting them do what they keep doing. They keep winning, so leave them alone."