ORLANDO, Fla. — A year ago at this time, Victor Oladipo was playing in games that rarely went longer than 40 minutes.
And he had yet to reach his sixth birthday the last time the Orlando Magic were involved in a contest that required three overtimes.
By both college and NBA rookie standards, you could say Oladipo played a game and a half Wednesday night. The authority with which he drove to the basket in the second and third quarters against the Chicago Bulls, who are ordinarily anything but slouches on defense, was a sight for sore eyes to fans who have seen the Magic struggle for victories.
Unfortunately for Oladipo, he is becoming something of an authority on standing out in defeat. Despite scoring a total of 26 points in what ordinarily would be the middle two quarters and a career-high 35 points overall, the Magic let a 15-point third-quarter lead slip away and came out on the short end of a 128-125 loss to the Bulls.
"I’ve never played a game that long," said Oladipo, who came within a minute of tying the single-game franchise record for playing time. "But I’m glad I was in it, and I’m glad I was playing in it. It’s all a blessing, a blessing in disguise."
Horace Grant, who will be honored before Friday night’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats as part of the Magic’s 25th anniversary, played 58 minutes in a triple-overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors in February 1998. Oladipo finished with 57.
While he ended the game with 15 field goals in 24 attempts, Oladipo was only 1 of 5 after Jameer Nelson’s step-back jumper over the considerably taller Joakim Noah forced the first of the three extra five-minute periods.
"We missed a lot of open shots down the stretch," he said.
"Guys played their tails off tonight," said Nelson, whose 31 points were one short of his high in a Magic career that began in 2004. "We shared the ball. We executed well. Obviously we did some things wrong, but our effort outweighed the things that we did wrong."
The most glaring error came in letting Mike Dunleavy get wide open off an inbound play with the Magic nursing a 111-108 lead late in the first overtime. After Dunleavy’s 3-pointer, one of 12 made by the Bulls after the first quarter, the Magic failed to get off a shot in the final 13.4 seconds, a move for which Nelson took full responsibility.
Compared with their most recent overtime affair two weeks ago, a loss at Cleveland in which they fell apart in the final minute of regulation, the Magic sounded encouraged at the way they executed on offense and defense.
Fittingly, Oladipo’s only field goal in overtime was a layup. He was able to use the rim to his advantage in scoring over Bulls forward Taj Gibson to give the Magic a 125-122 lead.
"I thought his attacks to the rim were really good," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "His finishing at the rim was pretty impressive. I thought he had a great pace about him."
Nelson had a more succinct way to describe his teammate’s speed.
"He’s faster than a hiccup," he said.
All five Magic starters played at least 43 minutes. Glen Davis scored nine of his 17 points in overtime, including a 3-pointer that was just as dramatic as the one he hit in a double-overtime loss at Philadelphia last month. And in one of the game’s many statistical oddities, Maurice Harkless was on the floor for 46 minutes but attempted just one shot.
"I told the guys, ‘Man, this feels like AAU. It’s like three games in one night,’ " Nelson said.
Then he paused and confessed he wasn’t speaking from personal experience.
"I never really played AAU, so I don’t know what it feels like. So I guess that’s what it felt like," he said in a moment of levity.
While there weren’t many long faces in the locker room, a long losing streak can’t help but be taking its toll on the Magic. But Oladipo was as philosophical as ever — not that you’ll find many philosophers with ice packs on both knees.