Going up-tempo sometimes means going down hard for Magic
ORLANDO, Fla. — Webster’s defines aversion as "opposition or repugnance; dislike; disinclination; reluctance; hatred."
Jacque Vaughn defined it as the opposite of what he witnessed Sunday night from the Orlando Magic against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The coach of the Magic showed no aversion to citing aversion as something he hopes to begin seeing from a team that has now given up more than 100 points in six consecutive games, the longest such streak by the Magic this season. While the former player and assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs didn’t quite make like Gregg Popovich against the Thunder during the 2012 Western Conference finals, Vaughn probably wouldn’t mind some nasty either. (He used the grammatically correct term "nastiness" instead.)
Before their victories last week over the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets in which they topped the 120-point mark, the Magic were more fragile than free-wheeling. The knock on them was that when things started to go bad in a game, those problems would tend to compound before the Magic snapped out of their funk.
That happened over the past month in losses at home to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Charlotte Hornets, two of the NBA’s lesser lights. So it wasn’t completely out of character to see a 13-0 deficit to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder swell to 37-20 by the end of the first quarter and 73-35 with more than two minutes to go before halftime.
"They were getting whatever they wanted," center Nikola Vucevic said. "We’ve just got to respond to that, and we didn’t do it."
Other than a 9-0 run to begin the third, the closest thing all night to a response by the Magic came when Vucevic got fed up with the roughhouse tactics of Steven Adams and drew a technical foul for shoving the 7-foot, 255-pound Thunder center. Vucevic was whistled for three personal fouls over the next two minutes and was pulled for good by Vaughn for Dewayne Dedmon, who wasted little time also getting aggravated by Adams.
Until Vucevic’s temper flared, no one on the Magic had multiple technical fouls all season. The most memorable mean streak came after Christmas when Tobias Harris went nose-to-nose with LeBron James, a move which only served to deactivate the chill mode that the four-time league MVP admitted he was in at the time.
The Magic aren’t about to become a team known for making opposing players regularly pay a price for having a clear path to the rim. Nor are they about to revert to the ways of running more of a set offense and relying less on the energy and athleticism of Victor Oladipo and rookie Elfrid Payton.
Vaughn nipped that notion in the bud, saying: "That’s not going to happen. But what I would like is a certain aversion, a certain hostility that needs to be created throughout the course of the game."
A game which began badly for the Magic ended on a sour note as well. With the shot clock off, backup Thunder guard Jeremy Lamb took an innocuous inbound pass and hoisted up — and made — a 3-point shot in front of the Magic bench for the last of their 127 points.
Does that shot get attempted if the Magic have a certain aversion, hostility or nastiness to them? It’s a question that can’t be answered with 100 percent assuredness. But it would be nice to see the Magic develop a mean streak while they’re streaking up and down the court with greater frequency.
Games such as the 28-point loss to the Thunder are going to happen now and then while the Magic adjust to a more up-tempo style with a limited amount of practice time. Players are always going to prefer getting out and running to walking the ball up, but defense can’t be an afterthought. The Denver Nuggets tried the same strategy 25 years ago, and Scott Skiles set a single-game assist record at their expense for the Magic.
Vaughn needs to see his team strike something of a balance. The sooner, the better.