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Flat Spurs blown out by Magic

The Spurs’ first loss of the season came in embarrassing fashion in Orlando.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was bound to happen. The Spurs were not going to remain undefeated for long without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. A loss was coming, but no one thought it would be this lopsided. The Magic dominated Friday’s matchup completely, starting strong and never letting up en route to a 114-87 win.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the Spurs could have done better, as almost nothing worked for them. Right from the start it was clear they were not sharp. They committed silly turnovers and got stuck in the mud on offense as they stubbornly tried to exploit mismatches. On defense, they were reacting instead of denying passes on the perimeter. They also got zero rim protection by their bigs. It was a disaster.

The Magic deserve credit for mercilessly picking apart the lackadaisical Spurs. Without Leonard to worry about, Orlando’s defense keyed in on Aldridge. They prevented open pick-and-pop opportunities by switching. Then when the Spurs tried to find Aldridge down low, they doubled. It was a simple defensive strategy but one that completely handcuffed an offense that lacked shooting and dribble penetration.

On offense, Orlando was scorching hot. Everyone hit outside shots, aided by late rotations by the Spurs. With Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon drawing San Antonio’s big out, the paint was open. Their guards and wings took advantage, driving for easy buckets inside. The Spurs had no answers for Evan Fournier and Jonathon Simmons. Their bench failed to provide a spark, getting the team into an even bigger hole.

Pop tried a few tricks in hopes of making it a game. He gave Davis Bertans some minutes. Bryn Forbes got an extended look as the Spurs tried to conjure up some shooting. Nothing worked. The game was essentially over at the half, as Orlando led by 27 points. It was every bit as brutally one-sided as the score indicates. Not much of relevance happened in the final two quarters, as the Magic maintained a comfortable lead.

There were some very minor silver linings in this debacle of a night. The Spurs got to try a full-court press, which was fleetingly entertaining and could come in handy at some point. Bertans got to shake off the rust after falling out of the rotation. Derrick White got 12 minutes. The starters and Manu Ginobili got to rest. Pop now has all the ammo he’ll need when he makes his next speech about “appropriate fear.” Blowout losses are never fun, but they can be helpful in small ways.

It’s comforting to know that the Spurs won’t overreact to this one. It’s only the fifth game of the season and they are missing two key pieces, plus a solid role player. It’s not like they lost to a terrible team, either. The Magic look legit, with wins over the Cavaliers and now San Antonio. This loss says very little about the Spurs’ chances to contend in the West. The best thing to do is to put it in the past.

The Spurs will have a chance to do just that on Sunday, when they face the Pacers. A win then would be valuable, as they will clash with the Celtics and the Warriors next. Surviving this stretch of the season with a good record is the goal. Then, as the team gets whole again, we’ll finally get to see how good they can be.

Game notes

  • LaMarcus Aldridge continued his dominant start of the season. Even through double teams, he managed to scored in double digits in the first half, when the game was still up for grabs. He finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Aldridge is looking like a top 20 player again. Let’s hope it lasts.
  • Rough game for Danny Green, who had been the second best Spur this season. His shot was not falling and he couldn’t display his newfound ability to score off the dribble. He also committed five turnovers. The Spurs will need him to return to form if they hope to win their next few match ups.
  • The Magic are a bad match up for Pau Gasol and Kyle Anderson. Gasol is bad at chasing bigs that can shoot. When he has to leave the paint, he simply can’t recover quickly enough to provide help. We already knew that, though. As for Anderson, there was no real small forward for him to guard and the Magic’s small-ball power forwards have a huge edge in athleticism over him.
  • Dejounte Murray had his second stinker in a row. Is it time to start worrying? I say no. Murray lacks the skills and the experience to be a starter at this stage. He’s still doing well, but he’s doing it mostly on talent and athleticism alone. It’s hard to be consistent when you don’t have all the tools you need. I still think he’ll have a bright future. And if he remains confident, he’ll have better performances soon.
  • I am worried about the other point guard on the roster, though. Patty Mills has been a disaster to start the season. His shot is off, he’s been turnover prone and his defense is not as good as it used to be. What’s concerning is that it’s not the result of a change in role. He’s still coming off the bench and playing around 20 minutes, but he’s just been bad. Hopefully he’ll get his groove back soon.
  • To be fair to Patty, the rest of the bench wasn’t much better in this one. Manu Ginobili missed some open three-pointers while Rudy Gay couldn’t muscle his way to the rim like in past games. Oh, well. It’s just one game.
  • So, the Magic are good, huh? I did not see that coming. I can’t blame you if you didn’t watch them play last season, but they were a joyless disaster, for the most part. Now they are a fun, modern team. They are playing five-out with Vucevic and Gordon, who are hitting jumpers with ease. They are pushing the pace. Their defense looks much more coordinated. They are obviously not this good — some of their threes will start rimming out at some point — but they might be good enough to get to the playoffs in the East.

Up next: At Indiana on Sunday, 3:30 p.m.

The Spurs travel to Indiana to face the Pacers. Indiana is finally running more and has some athletic players that could give San Antonio some problems, but the Spurs should win.