MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Orlando Magic entered their game Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies as overwhelming long shots, and the Magic knew it.
Their deals before the NBA trade deadline left them with just eight players in uniform — just seven players if you subtracted Al Harrington, who hasn’t played all season. Against the physical Grizzlies, one of the Western Conference’s best teams, eight players typically won’t do.
The end result, an 88-82 Orlando loss at FedEx Forum, was predictable. But the Magic’s narrow margin of defeat — they trailed by only three points with 4:05 left — defied the odds. After it ended, Orlando players framed their performance as a moral victory and said they could use it as a springboard the rest of the season.
“I will never enjoy losing, period,” shooting guard Arron Afflalo said.
“But I do enjoy growing, and tonight I felt like the seven guys, and even Al and his communication and Jameer [Nelson] being around, we grew tonight.”
Afflalo sensed better focus from the younger players.
He also saw some grit. The Magic trailed by 16 points early in the fourth quarter, whittled down the deficit a bit before center Nik Vucevic fouled out with about eight minutes to go. Even without Vucevic, they closed to within three points on a breakaway dunk by Maurice Harkless with 5:20 left in the fourth quarter.
A short while later, a potential game-tying 3 by point guard E’Twaun Moore rattled in-and-out.
Then, power forward Andrew Nicholson fouled out.
Vaughn turned to athletic trainer Keon Weise and asked, “Who else is available? How many we got left?”
Just Afflalo, Harkless, Moore, DeQuan Jones, Kyle O’Quinn and Harrington.
Vaughn pivoted to former NBA player Laron Profit, now one of the Magic’s player development coaches, and joked that Profit should sprint to the locker room and suit up.
Meanwhile, Vaughn never played Harrington, who is working his way back from an offseason staph infection in his right knee. Vaughn and Harrington said before the game that Harrington was healthy enough to play, but they also said it would be a “coach’s decision.”
Vaughn was asked after the game whether Harrington could’ve helped the team.
“He was a possibility to play,” Vaughn said. “And like we talked about this morning, it was going to boil down to a coach’s decision, and some mean coach didn’t put him in tonight.”
Why? What went into Vaughn’s thinking?
He wouldn’t provide a clear answer.
“There’s a few things,” Vaughn said. “I think our overall process of putting Al back on the court in the time and fashion in which we agree on and want to and we’ll keep that.”
Harkless played almost 46 minutes, despite a painful spider bite on the inside of his left arm, and scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Afflalo played 44 minutes and scored a game-high 20 points to go along with seven assists and six boards.
Just one day earlier, the Magic traded J.J. Redick, Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayón to the Milwaukee Bucks for Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih. The Magic also traded Josh McRoberts to the Charlotte Bobcats for cash and Hakim Warrick, who will be waived.
Lamb, Harris and Udrih were in Orlando on Friday to receive their physicals and didn’t join their new teammates in Memphis.
Nelson was in Memphis, but he didn’t play because of a strained left patellar tendon.
The healthy Magic players walked onto the court for their final pregame warm-ups about 20 minutes before the national anthem. When they passed a group of arena security workers, one of those workers exclaimed, “That’s it?!?”
That was it.
Moore was the only point guard.
In 39 minutes, he scored 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting. He added seven assists against just two turnovers.
With Moore on the court, the Magic outscored the Grizzlies by two points.
Without him, the Orlando offense sputtered.
The Magic were leading 36-33 with 4:49 left in the first half when Moore was subbed out for the first time.
Ball movement ground to a halt. Players took ill-advised shots. The Magic missed four of their five shot attempts and turned the ball over four times.
And the Grizzlies went on a 10-2 run to carry a 43-38 lead into halftime.
O’Quinn helped the Magic regain some momentum late in the third quarter when he swished a 20-foot jumper to cut Memphis’ lead to 60-49.
Harrington, watching from the bench, leapt to his feet.
“That’s what I’m talking about, K.O.!” Harrington yelled as he clapped.
Four Grizzlies players scored in double figures, led by Marc Gasol, who had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Zach Randolph added 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Memphis’ starters had to play the game’s final minutes to slow an Orlando comeback attempt.
“This is the NBA,” Grizzlies shooting guard Tony Allen said. “I knew [the Magic] weren’t going to let down. I knew it was going to be a challenge and that showed. Their pride came in and made it a game in the fourth quarter.”
Memphis just had too much firepower, too many healthy players in uniform.
“We could’ve just gone out there and been like, ‘Oh, we don’t have the guys to play,’ ” Vucevic said. “But we didn’t do that. We went out there and we really fought hard, and we really took one of the best teams in the NBA down to the last couple of minutes.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times