Magic searching for answers after rough 2nd quarter proves too much to overcome

ORLANDO, Fla. — When things have gone bad for the Orlando Magic this season, they’ve had a tendency to continue to go bad.

But what transpired for close to a seven-minute stretch of the second quarter Saturday night against the Charlotte Hornets, whom they had already beaten twice in the past six weeks, left coach Jacque Vaughn openly questioning the fragile nature of a team which has lost the ability to win games at home.

"I have to find a group that is mentally tough to find some adversity in their life and be able fight through it," Vaughn said after a 98-90 loss which included a stretch before halftime where they gave up 22 unanswered points. "We’ll continue to challenge our guys. And believe me, I will find a group of men who want to compete and play with pride every single night."

"We just kind of came apart," added Nikola Vucevic, who was one of just two Magic players — Tobias Harris being the other — to play more than five minutes and not miss more than half of their shots.

Though their 37.9 percent field-goal average for the game was not a season low, their 29 points in a first half were. And that brought on more than a smattering of boos late in the second quarter from fans who saw the Magic dig themselves a 26-point hole Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets.

In the final 3:12 of the quarter, Vaughn went with a lineup of rookies Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble, Dewayne Dedmon in place of Vucevic at center, plus Evan Fournier and Channing Frye. That group had six missed shots and two turnovers.

While the Magic came out of the locker room and went on a 10-0 run with their starters on the floor, that turned out to be a short-lived glimpse of hope.

"It was like we never played together before — just kind of watching, reluctant to pass, poor shot selection," said Ben Gordon, who was unable to provide the same spark off the bench that he did in the fourth-quarter rally against the Nets. "It’s going to be hard to swallow."

"It’s unacceptable for us to play with such a bad effort in front of our home crowd for two nights in a row," Vucevic said. "We’ve just got to do a better job. We’ve got to have more pride, to show up with a better fight."

Magic vs. Hornets

The Magic finished with a 50-34 advantage in points in the paint, but that statistic was misleading. For one, the Hornets had no inside presence at center with Al Jefferson out because of a groin injury. More importantly, the Magic continued to miss an alarmingly high number of shots at the rim while failing to convert several fast-break opportunities.

"You look at our percentage at the rim the last two games," Vaughn said. "We’re getting to the rim. We’re not putting the ball in the basket."

Sure, Kemba Walker had another big second half against them. But that was almost anticlimactic after the Magic’s 2-for-17 second quarter and the problems which ensued from that drought.

"We missed layups early in the game, and that impacted the other end of the floor for us," Vaughn said. "And when possessions continue to add up, we haven’t grown to where we’re mentally tough to get through them."

"It’s been an issue for us that we have to figure out," said Vucevic, whose 20 points and 10 rebounds weren’t enough to stop the Magic from falling to 13-24 overall and 4-12 at home. "We can’t have those letdowns. We let teams come at us and just dominate us, especially on our home court."

Victor Oladipo scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half but was as baffled as anyone by what happened over the first 24 minutes.

"I’ve got to do a better job of just leading and making sure my teammates are ready to play," he said. "Whether that be leading by example or leading with my mouth, I’ve got to find some way where we can figure it out. I know it’s a long year, but it can get ugly really fast."

Added Vucevic: "I wish I had the answer for what to do to fix it. I don’t. But the good thing now is we have these next three days to look at what we’ve done bad and have two good days of practice."

But for a team which began last January with nine straight losses, the new year is starting to take on the appearance of the same old same old.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.