PHOENIX — The Orlando Magic don't have the firepower to spot opponents points.
But the Magic keep doing it.
No team in the NBA this season has struggled in the first quarter as badly as Orlando has, and the statistics prove it. The Magic have been outscored in the period by an average of 4.9 points, the league's largest margin through Friday's games.
"I don't know what it is," Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. "If I did and I could put my finger on it, I would solve it."
Just how badly are the Magic performing early in games? Consider that the lowly Washington Wizards, the team with the NBA's worst record, entered Saturday with the league's second-worst point discrepancy in the first quarter. But on average, the Wizards were being outscored only by 4.3 points in the period.
Improving in the first quarter will rank as one of the Magic's top priorities when they face the Phoenix Suns tonight at US Airways Center. With a win, the Magic would conclude their West Coast road trip with a 3-2 record. A loss would cap their road swing with three consecutive losses.
"We've got to come out with a little more focus and value the ball a little bit more," shooting guard Arron Afflalo said. "You can't turn the ball over early in the game."
The Magic put themselves at a disadvantage again early Friday night against the Sacramento Kings. Orlando fell behind 20-9 late in the first quarter, and the period ended with Orlando down by nine points. Although the Magic eventually carried a lead into the fourth quarter, they lost 91-82.
Two nights earlier, the Magic trailed the Utah Jazz 24-15 at the end of the first quarter. Orlando fought back, and eventually held a one-point lead in the fourth quarter, but lost 87-81.
"There still needs to be an aggressive nature as soon as that ball is thrown up in the air, and that's how we have to play," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said.
Vaughn has noted his team's propensity to fall behind for a couple of weeks now, and yet the problem continues.
Orlando has trailed at some point in the first quarter in all 19 of its games this season and has trailed at the end of the first quarter in 15 of its 19 games season.
The Magic typically improve as games go on.
Through Friday's games, they ranked as the league's seventh-best team in the third quarter as measured by scoring margin, outscoring opponents in that period by 0.9 points per game.
A potential solution is to start J.J. Redick at shooting guard and to shift Afflalo to small forward, replacing Maurice Harkless. But Redick has started four games this season — albeit with Nelson injured in two of those games — and the Magic trailed at the end of the first period by an average of 5.8 points.
Still, something needs to change, whether it's the lineup or the team's focus at tipoff.
"If you think about the games we have won on the road trip, we were [close] in the first quarter," power forward Glen Davis said. "We can't be down and try to fight back, try to fight back, try to fight back. It just takes a lot of energy out of us as a team, and it's hard for us to finish games."