DENVER — Jacque Vaughn rarely displays anger. If he feels any irritation or disappointment, it usually remains hidden far below the surface, where no one can see it. That is his nature.
But the aggravation built Wednesday night. The rookie head coach watched as referees whistled 27 personal fouls against his Orlando Magic and seven against the Denver Nuggets.
Finally, after the Magic fell 108-105 for their 10th consecutive loss, all that frustration had to be let out.
Speaking calmly, slowly and in a hushed voice, Vaughn deadpanned: “I think the best thing is I know that [Denver] coaching staff over there pretty well, so I’m going to call Coach
"I think the best part of it is our guys played hard, and there's got to be a way that I could steal some of those secrets and get my guys to not hand-check like his guys and to get these guys to play in a way that seven foul calls are against them in the entire game."
This loss hurt, like the nine previous losses.
The foul discrepancy provided the flashpoint.
Denver made 22 of its 36 free throws. Orlando made nine of its 10 free throws.
The Magic led by nine points early in the fourth quarter and by seven points with 5:21 to play, only to see the lead evaporate. As the Nuggets inched closer, Orlando players perceived the referees missing fouls by the Nuggets and go overboard on questionable ones by the Magic.
With Orlando up 81-75, Josh McRoberts seemed to absorb a foul by Danilo Gallinari near the basket, and McRoberts tossed the ball over his own head to try and draw a pair of free throws. The ball somehow went in, but referees didn't call a foul.
With Orlando ahead 94-93 with 4:16 to go, referees called McRoberts for a questionable offensive foul against Andre Miller. It put the Magic into the penalty and gave the Nuggets' Andre Miller two free throws.
"That's part of the game," McRoberts said.
Nik Vucevic fouled out with 1:41 remaining. Arron Afflalo, playing his first game in Denver since the Nuggets included him in the four-team Dwight Howard trade, fouled out with 14.5 seconds left.
Like so many of the other games during this losing streak, the Magic gave themselves chances to win.
Six players scored in double figures, led by Jameer Nelson, who had 20 points to go along with eight assists. J.J. Redick added 17 points and four assists. Vucevic provided 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Rookies DeQuan Jones, Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless and Kyle O'Quinn combined to score 36 points, collect 15 rebounds and block four shots.
But, once again, the Magic fell apart in the fourth quarter.
In the period, Orlando made a higher percentage of their shots than Denver and committed an equal number of turnovers. The Nuggets, however, outhustled the Magic on the glass, collecting 17 rebounds to Orlando's five.
Afflalo acknowledged that the Magic (12-23) need to clean up their mistakes in the final periods of games.
"There's a lot of things, but all you can do is correct them," he said quietly. "I'm honestly tired of talking about it. It's 10 games in a row now of the same [stuff]. So, I don't know what else to say now except we've just got to play better and win."
Afflalo scored 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting and turned the ball over four times as he played his first game in Denver since the Nuggets included him in the four-team trade involving Dwight Howard.
Denver point guard Ty Lawson used his blazing speed to add 19 points to go along with his eight assists, while power forward Kenneth Faried scored 19 points and grabbed 19 rebounds.
With the score tied 99-99 with 1:36 to go, Faried galvanized the Nuggets by diving on the floor after a close-range miss. He collected the loose ball and called a timeout.
On the possession that followed, Lawson made a driving layup.
The Nuggets (21-16) never trailed again.
"I thought it was a really intense play and I thought it captured the spirit away from them," Nuggets coach George Karl said.
"They are not as bad as their record," he added later. "They have had a lot of games similar to tonight where in the fourth quarter they were very close to winning the games and the momentum somehow slapped them and they lost the games."
Now, the Magic are mired in their longest losing streak since they dropped 13 straight toward the end of the 2003-04 season.
"Things could've went differently," Nelson said. "But, you know, we just have to stick together."