Orlando, however, is beginning to prove otherwise.
The Magic look to extend their season-high three-game win streak Wednesday night when they host the league-worst Washington Wizards.
After a 5-10 start, the new-look Magic (11-13) have started to come together by winning six of nine in December. They notched their fourth win in five games Monday, rallying for a 102-93 victory over Minnesota.
"I'm pleased with the improvements we've made individually and as a team,'' coach Jacque Vaughn said. "We're believing in each other, but we still know that we have a lot of work to do.''
While Howard tries to help the Los Angeles Lakers get back to .500, the big men who have replaced the perennial All-Star center are playing key roles for the Magic.
Glen Davis has taken over as the team's scoring leader (16.2 points per game), and had 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting on Monday.
Center Nikola Vucevic added 14 points and 11 rebounds for his third consecutive double-double.
Although they rank near the bottom of the league in scoring at 93.0 points per game, the Magic have eclipsed the century mark in back-to-back games to improve to 8-1 when scoring 100 or more.
J.J. Redick contributed 18 points, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range against Minnesota.
His production has been key in Orlando's success, averaging 18.3 points and making 31 3-pointers in the team's 11 wins. Redick, though, scores 10.3 per game while connecting on only nine 3s in the 12 losses he's played in.
After going 6 for 14 from long range on Monday, the Magic are 11-4 when they make at least five 3s in a game and 0-9 when they make four or less.
Orlando will try to continue that trend against a Wizards defense that has allowed one of the highest totals in the Eastern Conference at 7.4 3-pointers per game.
After falling by 30 points at Miami on Saturday, Washington (3-19) was far more competitive Tuesday in a 100-95 overtime loss to Atlanta, its fourth straight defeat.
Five of the Wizards' last six losses have been by single digits.
"The way we play you would think giving ourselves a fighting chance in all these games, (our) record should be flipped,'' said forward Martell Webster, who had 11 points.
Washington, which is 1-10 on the road, shot 37.9 percent from the field in the loss and is hitting on 38.2 percent over the last five games.
Jordan Crawford was a bright spot, recording his second career triple-double after finishing with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against the Hawks.
Crawford has played point guard with John Wall (knee) and A.J. Price (broken hand) sidelined, and committed just one turnover after having 10 in his previous two games.
He's averaging 19.3 points in his last three games against the Magic.
Washington suffered another blow to its depleted backcourt on Tuesday when rookie Bradley Beal did not return after falling hard to the floor in the third quarter while fouled on a dunk attempt.
Washington ended a nine-game losing streak to the Magic with a 93-85 victory on April 10 in the most recent meeting. The Wizards have dropped five straight and eight of nine in Orlando.