Magic losing ground in efforts to end postseason drought
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The Orlando Magic’s lofty preseason goals have morphed into disappointment and possibly more postseason futility.
After years of coaching changes and constant re-imagining of the team, this was supposed to be Magic’s breakthrough year into playoffs. But with the season more than halfway over and the team sitting at 19-32 and on the outside of the Eastern Playoff race, the outlook appears dismal in Orlando.
”I anticipated being as far over .500 as we are under .500,” said first-year Magic coach Frank Vogel , whose team has won just one game in its last six. ”Overall I’m disappointed in our record and working diligently to turn it around.”
Despite Vogel’s efforts to turn things around – shifting players in and out of the starting lineup and mixing and matching various combinations – it just hasn’t worked and doesn’t seem like it’s going to anytime soon.
The concern isn’t lost on the players, either.
”We all did,” veteran small forward Jeff Green said of Vogel’s belief the team would be above .500 at this point. ”We all planned, had thoughts about being a better team than we are. Our record shows otherwise.”
The franchise is in full scramble mode as it tries to make good on its promise to make the postseason for the first time since Dwight Howard departed following the 2011-12 season. A trade involving either recently acquired power forward Serge Ibaka or long-time center Nikola Vucevic are not impossible ahead of the Feb. 23 NBA trade deadline as the Magic look to find more scoring.
Vogel, who joined the Magic last offseason following a successful 5 1/2-year run with Indiana, declined to discuss what roster moves could be made.
”I can’t worry about that,” Vogel said. ”I let (general manager) Rob Hennigan worry about that. I worry about getting this group to win games.
”We’ll keep looking at combinations, schemes all that stuff to figure out how to get the best out of them.”
The reality is that all that Vogel has tried has ended up with the same results: the Magic not able to win consistently. Currently, Orlando is just ahead of last-place Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference standings but they are just 3.5 games behind Charlotte for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The problem is six other teams are ahead of Orlando for that coveted eighth seed and of those teams only Milwaukee’s 1-9 record is worse than the Magic’s 2-8 record in the last 10 games.
Accountability for Orlando’s lack of success will almost certainly fall on Hennigan, who has gone through five head coaches and countless roster moves since Howard departed after the 2011-12 season. But Vogel almost certainly has to share blame in this season’s disappointment.
Last summer, Vogel and Hennigan put together a roster with emphasis on protecting the rim. They acquired center Bismack Biyombo in free agency and then traded scorer Victor Oladipo to Oklahoma City for Ibaka and first round draft pick with the plan of putting Biyombo and Ibaka on the floor together.
That approach hasn’t worked in part due to Orlando’s offensive woes and matchup problems when teams play with four wing players and a center. That was never more obvious than Wednesday night when Vogel’s old team – the Indiana Pacers – benefited immensely from the matchup of Ibaka on the quicker and better shooting Thaddeus Young.
Vogel was forced to step out of his comfort zone in the second half and play a four-guard lineup but the move couldn’t prevent the Magic’s third double-digit loss to his former team in as many attempts this season.
”I think the league in general is obviously downsizing so we are trying to downsize within what our roster is set up to be,” Vogel said. ”Certain games you have to upsize. Right now it’s a lot about matchups.”
But the Magic’s issues run deeper than just problematic matchups. They are also a team that lacks offensive identity or a go-to scorer.
On a given night the top scoring threat can be Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, D.J. Augustin, Green or Ibaka. But none are consistent scorers. The experiment of moving Aaron Gordon from power forward to small forward has worked well on the defensive end but offensively has been far less successful.
Orlando is 28th in the league in offense (99.9 points per game) and 17th defensively (105.5).
Still, some of the players believe they have the right mix and enough time to get into the playoffs.
”You’re always a winning streak away until it’s technically over,” Vucevic said. ”It’s a very tough position for us now, but you never know, crazy things do happen.”