ORLANDO, Fla. — Based solely on statistics, it wasn’t a bad return Friday night for Arron Afflalo.
Twenty-four points, four 3-point field goals in seven attempts, several trips to the free-throw line and no apparent after-effects from a strained right foot that had sidelined him for three games.
But the Orlando Magic’s leading scorer wasn’t in a mood to talk numbers following a 111-101 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Considering the Magic are now staring at their third double-digit skid in little more than a year, perhaps that’s just as well.
Even after his four-point play with 2:55 sliced the Bobcats’ advantage to 103-97, there was never a feeling that the Magic, who fell behind 19-2 in the opening six minutes but grabbed the lead in the second quarter, were going to pull out their first victory since the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The crowd sensed it. More importantly, Afflalo seemed to sense it.
"Sometimes you can just feel the energy, the vibe of the game, if you realistically have a chance to win," he said after a lengthy locker-room brainstorming conversation with Jameer Nelson. "We just have a lot of things to work on collectively. I don’t think individually, any of us can do more or less and think that wins are going to come from it. It’s going to be a collective understanding of how to win. We’ll figure those things out as a group."
The Magic didn’t shoot poorly. They outrebounded the Bobcats despite playing without center Nikola Vucevic, whose return from a concussion sustained at the start of last week’s road trip is as unclear as ever. They weren’t sloppy with their ball-handling.
Their awful start and their inability to make it a one-possession game over the final eight minutes against another struggling team — albeit one ranked fourth in the NBA in fewest points allowed per game — left Afflalo feeling as empty as he did in the games leading up to his injury.
"It was a tough start," he said. "I thought we regrouped well. We just never fully recovered."
Coach Jacque Vaughn said before the game that Afflalo probably wouldn’t play close to his average of 37 minutes. Instead, he had little choice to leave him for the bulk of the final three quarters, except for a four-minute stretch to open the final period.
"I didn’t anticipate playing him that long," Vaughn said. "But 19-2 changes the strategy a little bit."
As was the case against the Bulls, the Magic opened the game by settling too often for jump shots. That began to shift in the second quarter, particularly during an 18-3 run highlighted by Victor Oladipo’s steal and resounding dunk over Gerald Henderson.
But those moments of magic were all too short.
"Positive energy and high intensity on defense and confidence on offense — these are all intangible type of things," Afflalo said. "These aren’t physical things. That comes from being mentally in tune and, believe it or not, being happy with the moment, having energy to do your job at the moment. Throughout the course of an NBA game, there are things that deflate those things. Whether it’s turnovers, missed shots, missing a teammate on a pass or you got scored on, there are so many things that can draw you back to coasting or negativity."
Tobias Harris hasn’t been around the league anywhere nearly as long as Afflalo, but he made a veteran-type observation. Harris said the Magic displayed poor body language in the fourth quarter when the Bobcats beat a steady path to the free-throw line while Al Jefferson wasn’t frustrating Glen Davis with an assortment of low-post moves and jump shots.
"Our energy has to be higher," said Harris, who finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. "We have to believe that we can win that game, whether or not shots are falling for us or they’re making shots."
Added Oladipo: "I don’t think anybody in here wants to lose. Nobody’s satisfied with losing. We’ve just got to do what it takes to win." Even if the distance between the Magic’s last victory and now continues to grow.
"It’s a long season. It might sound old. It might sound repetitive. But it’s true. And I’m just going to continue to keep going."