DENVER — Denver coach George Karl called Orlando before Wednesday night’s game the best team with a nine-game losing streak he’s seen in a while.
It goes without saying the Magic showed Karl enough to make them the best team with a 10-game skid.
As usual, the Magic kept it close down the stretch and, as usual, they lost. The final tally was 108-105 at the Pepsi Center.
The Magic still hasn’t won since forward Glen Davis suffered a sprained shoulder Dec. 19. Only one of the 10 defeats has been by more than eight points. They’ve lost twice in overtime, and overall have fallen six times by four points or less.
“I’m honestly tired of talking about it,” said Orlando guard Arron Afflalo, who, with 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting, struggled in his return to Denver after being traded last summer by the Nuggets. “It’s 10 games in a row of the same (junk). I don’t know what else to say now.”
Well, Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn had something to say. Perhaps running out of people to blame during the losing streak, he turned Wednesday to the officials.
Vaughn was quite displeased that the Magic (12-23) were whistled for 27 fouls and the Nuggets (21-16) for just seven.
“I think the best thing is I know their coaching staff over there (with Denver) pretty well,” Vaughn said. “I’m going to call Coach Karl and see how I can steal some of his defensive principles to teach his guys how to play and only get seven fouls called against him.
“There’s got to be a way I can steal some of those secrets and get my guys to not hand check like his guys and get my guys playing in a way in which seven fouls are called the whole game… It will be interesting to watch it on film. Film never lies, and we all get criticized and we’re all held to a standard and I’m looking forward to seeing the seven fouls.”
Until 2:23 was left in the game, the Nuggets only had five fouls, which was the same number Afflalo and Orlando center Nikola Vucevic each had at the time. Both ended up fouling out.
Karl might not be able to share too many secrets with Vaughn. He didn’t see the foul situation the same.
“I think seven (fouls) is a little insulting, embarrassing to me,” Karl said. “Because I think our team should be more aggressive than that. You should have at least twice that many fouls to find out what you can get away with.”
As far as Vaughn was concerned, the Nuggets got away with plenty. But there was far more to blame Wednesday than officiating.
Orlando led by nine points late in the third quarter and was up 94-87 with 5:36 left in the game, when guard Jameer Nelson, who scored a game-high 20, hit a 3-pointer. But the Magic wilted down the stretch.
They missed layups. They let the Nuggets get easy shots. They watched as Denver forward Kenneth Faried, who had 19 points and 19 rebounds, grabbed six boards in the game’s final six minutes.
Vucevic has been brilliant lately on the boards, having averaged 14.1 over the past 14 games. He had 14 Wednesday but disappeared in the fourth quarter, not getting a single rebound and picking up three fouls in five minutes on the court.
“It was frustrating to foul out because you want to be out there to help the team,” said Vucevic, who fouled out with 1:41 left and the score tied 99-99, and then had to watch as the Nuggets scored five straight points to take control. “You got to be smart with your fouls.”
Vucevic is just a second-year man. He’ll learn. The Magic have plenty of other young guys on the team, which is one reason they can’t close out games.
As for Orlando’s veterans, they’re not liking this too much.
“Half the battle is competing every night, putting ourselves in a position to win, which we’ve done,” said seven-year veteran guard J.J. Redick. “That’s the positive. The negative is we haven’t figured out yet how to win games without Glen.”
Redick is one of three Orlando players remaining from the 2009 team that played in the NBA Finals. The others are Nelson and forward Hedo Turkoglu, who left and later returned.
“We’re not losing games by 10, 15, 20 points,” Nelson said. “They’re two-, three-, four-point losses. So it’s just a matter of one or two possessions defensively and offensively…. Losing itself is tough.”
The odds are things will be tough for at least one more game. The Magic next play Saturday at the Los Angeles Clippers, who have the NBA’s best record at 28-8.
But relief could be in sight. The game after that is Monday at Washington, which has the NBA’s worst record at 5-28.
The Wizards were the last team the Magic beat. Then again, Orlando that night had Davis.