Magic show mettle after heartbreaking losses

Magic show mettle after heartbreaking losses

Published Mar. 31, 2012 12:04 p.m. ET

After the Orlando Magic blowout loss in New York Wednesday night, coach Stan Van Gundy was befuddled.

"What's shocking to me is that a team that's playing over .600 basketball can get absolutely rocked as many times as we have been," Van Gundy said.

True. The Magic have suffered their share of staggering defeats. Orlando has been beaten by 20 or more points five times this season. But upon close inspection, they are not the only playoff-bound team to suffer multiple humiliating defeats during this truncated NBA season.

The Atlanta Hawks (31-22), the Los Angeles Clippers (30-21) and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks (30-23) have all lost four games by 20 or more points. The compacted schedule, injuries and fatigue have contributed to many a head-scratching loss around the league.

More troubling for the Magic has been the other type of defeat: the heartbreaker. Blowout losses are easy to set aside. The embarrassment often provides motivation to put things right.

The heartbreaker is cruel. It can rattle confidence, crush the spirit.

The Magic suffered both types of defeats this week in back-to-back games. After a woeful performance in New York on Wednesday, the Magic responded with a great effort two nights later but lost a game they should have won against the Mavericks. They blew a 15-point lead. They had two good looks to win or tie the game at the end of regulation. Heartbreaker.

The Magic have been there before. Far too often this year the Amway Center has been the scene of the crime against homecourt advantage. Those are the losses that keep coaches, players and even ardent fans up at night.

On Jan. 18 against San Antonio, the Spurs got a game winning shot from Gary Neal. It was his only field goal of the night. J.J. Redick’s 3-point attempt to win the game went in, but it left his hand just a split second too late at the end of the overtime period.

In a loss to the Clippers on Feb. 6, Jameer Nelson missed a teardrop shot over 7-footer DeAndre Jordan to win the game in regulation. Chris Paul hit a similar shot over Dwight Howard to win the game in overtime.

In the case of a Feb. 10 overtime loss to Atlanta, Orlando missed three 3-point attempts in the final 25 seconds of overtime, any one of which would have been a game-winner.

Friday night against Dallas, Hedo Turkoglu missed a 3-point attempt to win the game, and Ryan Anderson missed a hurried put-back shot at point-blank range that would’ve sent the game to overtime. This, just seconds after Dirk Nowitzki banked in a tough 18-footer over Turkoglu for what turned out to be the game-winning basket.

In all four heartbreaking losses, the opposing team made the clutch plays in the closing seconds; the Magic did not.

The good news is Orlando has proven to be a resilient crew. The heartbreaking losses do not appear to have broken their spirit.

The loss to San Antonio was followed by an impressive win over the Lakers.

Two days after the loss to the Clippers, they beat the Heat by 13.

The night after the overtime loss to Atlanta, they eked out a grinder in Milwaukee.

We’ll see what happens Sunday night against Denver, after the gut-wrenching Dallas defeat.

But regardless, if Orlando is going to have success in the postseason, they will have to do a better job of executing at both ends of the floor in close, late-game situations.