Just 24 hours before Monday night’s tipoff between the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets, the Magic were feeling much better about themselves. They had won two straight games and were leaning on the production they were receiving from point guard D.J. Augustin.
Fast forward to Monday, and the uncertainty returned as the Hornets rolled to a 125-100 victory over the Magic, Charlotte’s 13th consecutive win over Orlando. It would be tempting for Magic fans or players to put up a defense that with Augustin and forward Jonathan Simmons out nursing sore ankles, the depleted roster led to the rout.
“This wasn’t about point guard play,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said during his postgame remarks. “This wasn’t about who didn’t play. This was about who did play. We didn’t play well as a unit, and we had a number of guys and this has happened to us two or three times before.”
One of those times was the second game of the season when Charlotte again blasted the Magic 120-88 at the Amway Center.
Clifford coached the Hornets for the first 11 of those wins. Now that he’s on the other side, can he explain the lopsidedness of the matchup?
“I don’t know,” Clifford said. “(Former Magic coach) Frank (Vogel) and I used to talk about it, and for whatever reason, I always felt we played some of our best games and I never thought it was a matchup or anything, but it is something we have to figure out, obviously.”
Others might point to what seemed to be a lack of intensity was a result of playing their third game in four nights. That one won’t work either because, as Clifford pointed out, the Hornets were also playing their third game in four nights.
While Simmons and Augustin missed the game for Orlando, Charlotte shooting guard Jeremy Lamb went down and starting center Cody Zeller left the game in the second half with an injury. The Hornets did have their outstanding point guard, Kemba Walker, who either scored, drove to the basket or passed to teammates to fuel the blowout.
Of far more concern for Magic is the calf injury suffered in the third quarter by their invaluable center, Nikola Vucevic. He could miss Wednesday’s game in Chicago.
As Clifford said after the game, no matter who is on the court, they will have to “step up” to fill any gaps caused by injury. Even when all were available, the Magic put forth a miserable effort in the last trip to Chicago, falling to the Bulls 90-80 two weeks ago.