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Orlando Magic Hanging Close on Road Versus NBA's Best

Magic Continue to Fall Short on Road Against NBA's Top Teams

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Despite having just two wins away from the Amway Center and one of the worst road records in the NBA this season, the Orlando Magic have pushed some of the league's best teams to the limit in their own buildings. Sunday night was just another example as the Magic fell 101-98 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Magic trailed by 12 after three quarters and by the same amount with under 2 minutes to play against an Oklahoma City team that had not lost at home this season. Orlando, however, closed the game on a 10-1 run and forward Glen Davis had a look from beyond the three-point line that could have potentially forced overtime, but it went awry. The Thunder improved to 19-4 with the win and have the third best record in the entire NBA, but htey nearly allowed the Magic to pull off one of the more improbable victories this season.

On November 23 against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Orlando let a 16-point halftime lead slip away, but managed to rally late. A three-point play from Davis with 37 seconds to play knotted the game at 99, but the defending champs had an answer. This time, it was LeBron James that knocked down the game-winning jumper as Miami edged Orlando 101-99.

Orlando's season opened with a 97-87 loss to an Indiana Pacers team that has still yet to lose at home. Indiana scored the game's first 12 points, but the Magic rallied to grab a 44-40 halftime lead and were within one late in the third quarter before a technical free throw from David West and a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Paul George spurred a big Indiana run to open the fourth quarter.

With a record of just 7-17 on the season, the Orlando Magic have managed to play four quarters against the NBA's best on the road despite being just 2-11 away from home on the season. What makes Orlando's road efforts against the league's premier teams even more remarkable is how the Magic have played against some of the league's lesser teams away from home.

Though the Magic have made the likes of Miami, Indiana and Oklahoma City sweat on their home floors, Orlando lost by 15 at Boston, 18 at Washington and by a whopping 38 in New York. While the Heat, Pacers and Thunder have combined records of 56-13, the Celtics, Wizards and Knicks are just a combined 27-43.

It seems hard to explain, but the most likely reason for the disparity is Orlando's youth. With a 15-man roster that features eight players at the age of 24 or younger, the Magic are getting up for the big games and playing down to their competition against teams not on the same level of a Miami or an Oklahoma City.

It's not unusual for a young team to play poorly on the road, but head coach Jacque Vaughn will need to find a way to get the same effort from his team on a nightly basis. Add the fact that the Magic are the healthiest that they have been all season and there should no longer be any excuses.

The Magic will be on the road for the eighth time in nine games on Monday night as Orlando visits the 9-13 Chicago Bulls. After nearly rallying to top the Thunder on Sunday night, it'll be interesting to see if the Magic can match that intensity early on. The Bulls have won five straight against Orlando, including all four meetings last season. Two of the four, however, were decided by two points or less.

Mike Ferguson is a Central Florida native and an Orlando Magic contributor for Yahoo Sports.

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