ORLANDO, Fla. — With seven of their next eight games coming at home, and with the knowledge that James Borrego will remain their coach for the rest of the season, the Orlando Magic have an opportunity to build on the modest momentum they had going into the NBA All-Star break.
But the memory of what happened during the holidays in late December is still fresh enough in their minds to serve as a cautionary tale.
The Magic went 1-6 at the Amway Center beginning the weekend before Christmas when they played seven of nine games at home. Oddly enough, they won at Charlotte and Miami in their only road games over that stretch. So hosting the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night and having several sub-.500 teams coming to town after that does not automatically guarantee success in a building where their record is 7-18.
"We don’t want to rely on that. That’s fool’s gold for us," Borrego said Wednesday before the team’s first practice since the break. "We’ve got to go try to win every game whether it’s a home game or a road game. It’s nice being at home. But that comes with a responsibility of playing hard, playing in front of your crowd. And we have to own that. We have to be better at home. We have to be better on the road. If we rely on just being home, we’re not going to turn this thing around."
Of the Magic’s remaining 26 games, 16 are at home. They went into what was a week off for everyone except guards Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton — both of whom took part in the league’s festivities — with an 89-83 victory over the visiting New York Knicks. It was the fourth time in as many games under Borrego that the Magic had held an opponent to fewer than 100 points.
But their problems amid familiar surroundings are all the more mysterious considering they have 10 wins on the road a year after posting a franchise-worst 4-37 record in that category.
"Last year was a huge struggle on the road, which is kind of normal sometimes when you play well at home," center Nikola Vucevic said. "This year we’ve played better on the road, but lately we’ve been playing better at home. So hopefully we can pick it up and use these 16 games we have at home to make a run."
Added Oladipo, who finished second Saturday night in the Slam Dunk Contest: "We’re trying to finish strong. We’re trying to make a run. So we’re going to come out and play every game like it’s our last."
Borrego no longer needs to coach every game like it could be his last. The Magic informed him Tuesday that he will stay in charge and also brought in a new assistant coach in Igor Kokoskov, who had previously been on staffs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Phoenix Suns, the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Borrego described Kokoskov as "someone I’ve respected for many years" but added he has no history of working with the native of Serbia.
"We’re just going to have to feel this out day by day, practice by practice," Borrego said. "There’s no training camp here. We’re going to jump right in. He’s going to jump right in."
Vucevic said he met Kokoskov when the Magic played at Cleveland and Phoenix in previous years.
"I look forward to working with him," the team’s leading scorer (19.6) and rebounder (11.3) said. "I’ve heard a lot of great things about him from people back home (in Montenegro) and from people around the league."
It’s not certain whether the Magic will have forward Tobias Harris available against the Pelicans. He missed the last two games before the break with a sore right knee, and while a week off has helped, the Magic’s second-leading scorer said "it’s not fully where I want it to be right now."
Being nine games behind both Miami and Charlotte in the loss column for the last two Eastern Conference playoff berths is not an ideal spot for the Magic. But with both the Heat and the Hornets coming to town in the next two weeks, they can begin to whittle away at that gap.
"The vibe of the team is at a good point right now," Harris said. "That’s good. The biggest thing for us is to just string together some wins in a row to get a little momentum, get some confidence. Who knows what can happen after that."