Orlando Magic searching for a consistent “spirit”

Frank Vogel said his team lacked a “pure spirit” in their home loss Sunday. The Orlando Magic are still trying to reign in that consistency to their tenets.

As Frank Vogel sat at the podium following Sunday’s 109-79 loss to the Toronto Raptors, he spoke about something fundamental and beyond the box score. Certainly, its effect goes into the box score and can clearly be seen in the final result. But it was something much more fundamental.

The Magic, in losing by such a large margin, had lost something that is at this team’s core.

Vogel spoke of the team missing a “pure spirit” in Sunday’s game. The isolation play, poor ball movement and poor communication on defense were indications the team was playing selfishly and not for each other. It was another sign of the team’s inconsistency throughout this short season.

“We’ve got to respect each other,” Vogel said. “We’ve got to build to our togetherness. Over the year, every team I have been on has struggled with it and has to achieve it. By the middle of the season, toward the end of the season, you’re a tight-knit unit. It starts with how you play and it continues with how you respect how your teammates are playing. Our guys all have their hearts in the right places, but it’s not always perfect.”

This term of “pure spirit” seems like a bit of coach speak. A term a coach throws out to his team to encapsulate what they are about. It can certainly have multiple meanings to each player, in whatever way they internalize it.

Nikola Vucevic described playing with this spirit as playing together, making the right pass and read and taking what the defense gives you. That was something the Magic did not do Sunday for sure. The team often forced thing and got caught playing in isolation.

Elfrid Payton described playing with a “pure spirit” as playing with positivity, not getting down on themselves or teammates when they are out on the floor. Vogel is noted for his positivity in his approach with his team. That certainly can play a role.

This term ultimately boils down to meaning: playing the right way.

For them, it means playing strong defense and “trusting the pass,” another of Vogel’s favorite terms to describe his offense playing the right way. That was something the Magic decidedly did not do in the loss to the Raptors.

And the most disappointing part is that the team has shown this great spirit before. It just does not come consistently, getting ot the root of the Magic’s biggest problem.

This past week was a week where the Magic recorded 36 assists and 29 assists in back-to-back games, but ended with them recording a paltry 13 (one off their season low). This was as much a sign of the team’s struggles and them losing that “spirit” they need to succeed.

“Last night for us was a piss-poor effort,” Jeff Green said. “It’s frustrating when you do go out and score 130 and then come out and score 70 points. It just shows the lack of trust. It’s not like we’re trying to go out there and do it on purpose. We’re all good players, we all want to win. We all try to do things to help this team win. Sometimes, we overthink the game and we get ahead of ourselves.”

The inconsistency has been the difficult part for the Magic all year. That has been the thing the team has not been able to get a handle on this season. The team has had a different character from week to week.

“It’s frustrating because we know we can do it,” Elfrid Payton said. “We’ve just got to be consistent in it. That’s what this league is all about — consistency.”

These blowout losses have always served as a reflection point for the team. A chance to review where things have gone wrong. Players said when they reviewed the tape, things were not as bad as they seemed initially — although, the team still did a lot of things wrong.

With the Magic approaching game 30, the coaching staff will be doing its general review of how the team is performing. Vogel said before Sunday’s game he typically likes to evaluate statistics and the team’s performance every 10 games. That could mean he re-evaluates how the lineups and rotations are working and looks to improve certain combinations.

The one thing that has been true this season has been that inconsistency.

“We have had a crazy statistical season from the standpoint of I think the first third of our season we were bad on both ends,” Vogel said. “The second third, we were good on D and bad on offense. And the [final] third, we’ve been very good on offense and horrible on defense. I’m still trying to figure us out.”

And that certainly has something to do with the team struggling to come together.

It is a bit of a feedback loop in that sense. Orlando has struggled to come together because the team is not playing well and they are not playing well because the team has struggled to come together.

There are still some basic tenets for the team that are still taking root and struggling to form in this first third of the season.

The games do not wait. The Magic have had too many of these inconsistent efforts and blowout losses to respond to. And, though, they have responded well, they have not done so consistently for long.

The hope is that the team rediscovers that spirit soon. Until then, they continue to grind and search.

“Practice was therapeutic,” Vogel said. “We watched some tape. We tried to learn what disappointed all of us in terms of how we played. Hopefully, put it behind us and hopefully move on to the next game together.”

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