Nov 19, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry (30) controls the ball against Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) as guard Justin Anderson (1) looks on during the second half at Amway Center. The Magic won 95-87. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic have not been overly impressive in scoring two victories last week and beginning a slow climb up the power rankings. But wins are wins.
The Orlando Magic season has hit a strange rhythm of inconsistency — yes, that is consistent inconsistency.
The first week, they struggled and look poor. The next week, they looked like world beaters scoring their first wins and returning to .500. The next week, they looked like they could not throw a rock in the ocean or stop anyone from doing so. And last week, they began to establish their firm base on the defensive end.
As many are quick to point out, the Magic banked up some wins against some relatively weak competition. The Magic’s two wins last week came with Anthony Davis sitting out for the New Orleans Pelicans and with Dirk Nowitzki out for the Dallas Mavericks. There was still a devastating blowout loss too.
It may very well overshadow the fact the Magic have the best defensive rating in the league since Nov. 11 and appear to be looking stronger on the defensive end. The Magic backed that up with a great performance against the Milwaukee Bucks — at full strength. Perhaps the Magic’s defense is for real.
Regardless of who the Magic played or how those wins came, the Magic did largely take care of business last week. They do not have a “bad loss” and continue to win games they are supposed to win. That counts for something, even if they are not super impressive in the process.
The schedule remains light this week. With the Bucks game out the window, the Magic take on conference bottom feeders in the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards before a return date with the Bucks on Sunday. Then the real fun begins with the December road trip.
For now, the Magic are picking off teams in a light part of the schedule, doing exactly what they have to do. And building their identity.
Power rankings across the Web are still a little lukewarm on the team, likely because the Magic have not been able to run away from these poor teams. But wins have helped them continue to climb.
Nov 16, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Jeff Green (34) fight for a rebound against New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik (3) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
After allowing less than 90 points per 100 possessions through their first eight games, the Clippers have (inevitably) taken a step backward defensively. Their seven-game winning streak came to an end when they allowed the Grizzlies to shoot 15-for-26 from 3-point range on Wednesday, and weekend wins over the Kings and Bulls were uneven. Still, they have the most wins (6) over other teams that are currently over .500 and the league’s best point differential by a wide margin, with only two losses by a total of six points. Paul Pierce made his (final) season debut on Friday and made four of his six shots over the weekend.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 21st
The Kings hold the secret to slowing down DeMar DeRozan, having held him to 10-for-35 shooting as they swept their season series with the Raptors. After having some success in losses to the Spurs and Clippers playing small, they started that way (with Matt Barnes and Rudy Gay at the forward positions) on Sunday. They’ve been outscored by 8.1 points per 100 possessions in 235 minutes when DeMarcus Cousins has shared the floor with another big man, but have outscored their opponents by 9.0 per 100 in 172 minutes with Cousins at the five and Rudy Gay at the four.
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 22nd
The Magic are beginning to look a lot more Vogel-esque, with both teams scoring less than a point per possession in four of their last five games. It starts with their new starting lineup (Jeff Green instead of Aaron Gordon at small forward), which has been both the league’s worst offensive lineup and its best defensive lineup among those that have at least 75 minutes. The defensive numbers should continue to stay low, as they’re in the middle of a stretch where 10 of 13 games are against teams that currently rank in the bottom 11 in offensive efficiency.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 19th
Thursday’s win over the Sixers (featuring a ferocious Karl-Anthony Towns dunk) was some temporary relief, but the Wolves even lost the third quarter against Philly and then came up empty in Memphis two nights later. Ricky Rubio, the guy who vented (“We’re not learning”) after Tuesday’s loss to Charlotte, shot 3-for-16 last week. All of the Wolves’ point guards have shot less than 40 percent for the season, as what was thought to be a position of strength (where Rubio might be expendable) has been a disappointment thus far.
The big takeaway from this week — regardless of the competition — is the Orlando Magic are beginning to look more like a Frank Vogel team. The defense has been strong as evidence by the low scoring numbers from opponents.
Again, those opponents may have been a bit undermanned, but it still takes a lot to hold opponents under 90 in the NBA mutliple nights in a row. It is something that does not just happen.
The Magic will get tested as the schedule stiffens, but Orlando needed to establish this base in a majory way.
Nov 14, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) pulls down a rebound while Indiana Pacers guard Jeff Teague (44) defends in the first quarter of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Here are some noteworthy Clippers numbers through 14 games: they’re second in offensive rating, second in defensive rating, first in net rating, fifth in assist to turnover ratio, fourth in true shooting and first in points off turnovers. So, basically, this team and these players are in midst of quite possibly the best ball of their entire co-existence, which dates back to when we thought “Lob City” was cool, and when Donald Sterling owned the team, and when people were still mad about Chris Paul not being on the Lakers.
Last week: 0-3 record Last rank: 15th
Honestly, I don’t know where to look this up… but would Giannis Antetokoumpo and Jabari Parker (both 21) be the youngest pair of teammates ever to average 20 per game?
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 24th
The idea of the Magic as a strong defensive unit appears closer to reality of late, but concerns about where points are going to come from are realer.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 20th
If you can, take some time to really watch Andrew Wiggins, who’s added a quality mid-post game and is shooting 48.9% from three in addition to, you know, being one of the most athletic people on this planet. I’ve been cautious in the past, but now I’m buying.
The doubts about the Orlando Magic’s offense should and still do remain.
Even with the team playing some incredible defense, they were unable to pull away from New Orleans or Dallas when Orlando had clear opportunities to do so. The Magic have to learn to put games away.
Notably, in Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Frank Vogel urged his team to go for the throat after going up by 14 right off the bat. The Magic gave up half that lead by the time the quarter ended. Orlando is still trying to find the offense to have a killer instinct.
Nov 13, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel reacts to a call in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
With an improved bench, Chris Paul as efficient as ever and Blake Griffin enjoying a full force, bounce-back season, the Clippers retain their No. 1 spot. Also, R.I.P. to Robin Lopez, who was sent to an early grave Saturday by the Flyin’ Lion.
Last week: 0-3 record Last rank: 16th
In their three games this week, Giannis Antetokounmpo added more fuel to this unstoppable freight train heading toward the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award, averaging 23.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. Meanwhile, Jabari Parker put up 20.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in that same span.
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 25th
On the bright side though, as Frank Vogel’s squad continues to find its footing, they’ve got an awfully favorite stretch of games coming up, which includes the Bucks (twice), Suns, Wizards (twice) and Sixers in their next nine contests.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 22nd
In the meantime, the Kings did put together a reasonably competitive week, falling to the Spurs and Clippers by a combined 11 points behind monster nights from Boogie before beating the Raptors on a controversial final play. Head coach Dave Joerger’s switch to a small-ball starting lineup might be Sacramento’s last-ditch effort to rejoin the playoff hunt before the Kings are forced to finally face their own inadequacy, so….fingers crossed?
The Orlando Magic are well aware of the schedule they have taken advantage of and their upcoming schedule that they need to take advantage of.
Say what you want about the Magic’s competition, but they are taking care of business. Every win counts the same, no matter if it is by one or by 21. Orlando is an embodiment of that lesson so far.
The competition will get tougher, but the Magic need to bank some wins up this week just like they did last week.
Nov 11, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) and Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) go after the loose ball during the second half at Amway Center. Utah Jazz defeated the Orlando Magic 87-74. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Despite a road loss to the Indiana Pacers dropping them from best record in the NBA to third, the Cleveland Cavaliers still remain atop the power rankings for the third week in a row. The Cavaliers are easily the best team in the Eastern Conference and with every passing game it’s looking more and more likely that LeBron James will catch that ghost he’s been chasing–at least in terms of consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. We’ve also seen our first instance of James coasting through the regular season, he was given the night off in the team’s loss to the Pacers, and it’s likely this will be the first of many DNP-rest for James. It will be interesting to see if James decides to spread them out sporadically over the year or opts to due his usual mid-season extended absence that he’s relied upon since coming back to his home state. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are playing at a high-level and the rest of the team’s supporting cast looks to be accustomed to their roles already. Outside of injuries or an extended losing streak, the Cavaliers should remain amongst the top tier of teams that have separated themselves from the pack as we inch closer to the 20 game mark.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 21st
Things have been weird to say the least to begin the Tom Thibodeau era with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The defensive genius has so far had a bigger impact on the team’s offensive output than the defense. The Timberwolves have the seventh highest offensive rating (110.8 ORtg) and their defensive rating comes in at 23rd right now–it was 28th at the end of last season. Another weird stat that pops off the page when looking at Minnesota’s play is just how terrible they have been in the third quarter of games. It’s become a habit for the Timberwolves to outscore and even outplay their opponents for three of the four quarters, but they are so bad in the third that it erases all they good they did previously. It’s too soon to lock in on what the cause of these third quarter collapses could be, however, making adjustments out of halftime falls square on the shoulder of the coach. In their loss last night to the Boston Celtics, it was a horrendous start to the fourth quarter–Boston opened the quarter with a 17-0 run–that ultimately did the team in. If Thibs can’t get this team to execute better after the half than the franchise’s hope of making the playoffs could be over before they even get a chance to compete.
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 19th
Down in sunny Florida, the sun has not been shining on the NBA team that plays in Disney World’s backyard. The Orlando Magic aren’t really a conundrum like the Milwaukee Bucks, they are just not built to work as currently situated. The front office tried to mash together a bunch of square pegs into round holes and we’re seeing now just how badly that plan is working out for them. They have talent and a high-level coach that are keeping them afloat and hovering around the .500 mark. They haven’t played the easiest of schedules either so there is still hope that this team can get it all figured out. The frontcourt of Aaron Gordon, Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Vucevic, and Serge Ibaka just hasn’t been able to get on the same page so far this season. Vogel has tinkered with his lineups in hopes of finding the right combination to get the most out of this mismatched roster, but it’s more likely that the Magic are going to need to make a move in order to get this team to compete at the level that the people in upper management expected from them after spending all of their money chasing free agents this summer.
Last week: 0-3 record Last rank: 19th
Despite what Anthony Bennett told you during Media Day, the Nets have been a team worthy of keeping an eye on during the early stretch of games this season. It hasn’t been pretty, but Kenny Atkinson and the Brooklyn Nets have been one of the more surprising teams at the beginning of the NBA season. The biggest storyline in Brooklyn in the offseason was just how high of a draft pick they could potentially surrender to the Boston Celtics in the 2017 NBA Draft. Yet, as the season has played out it’s looking like that pick will be lower and lower in the lottery. Jeremy Lin, the team’s star offseason acquisition, is closing in on being sidelined for the better part of a month. In his absence, the team has gone 2-6 and are currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak. If they want to keep appearing in the low 20’s on this list they’ll need to bring this skid to an end soon, otherwise we could once again only be discussing the Nets in relation to the draft pick they’ll give up at the season’s end.
The Orlando Magic are playing better and slowly carving out their identity. But there is still the cloud of the mismatched roster.
We have addressed the rotation changes a lot this week. It continues to be a big storyline for the team throughout the season. It is not something that is going to go away any time soon it would seem.
The Magic will have their chance to fix things and make some adjustments on the fly. At the moment, the Magic have to make the best of a mismatched roster that is still figuring out how to force a fit.
Nov 5, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel calls play as he huddles up against the Washington Wizards during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The most balanced team in the league, and after Monday’s tilt against the Raptors (who are on a back-to-back), they have an easy stretch of games before the December 1 showdown with the mighty Cavaliers. Don’t look now, though, the Warriors are tied and chasing down that No. 1 spot.
Last week: 2-2 record Last rank: 18th
They have two more easier opponents in the Sixers and Pistons before a stretch of playoff teams. It feels like the bottom is aching to fall out beneath this team.
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 22nd
They hired Frank Vogel to help them become a good defensive team, and they’re well on their way. I’m waiting until we see them go through a tough stretch of schedule. Lot of smoke and mirrors, but wins are wins.
New Orleans Pelicans
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 30th
Jrue Holiday is like the magic beans to this team. Throw him in and all of a sudden they’re an actual honest-to-God NBA team.
After this week, everyone is certainly waiting to see how the Orlando Magic fare against “real” competition. Monday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was a first step. Sunday’s rematch will be the next.
But the big test comes beginning next week when the Magic go on their first extended road trip. They open that up against the San Antonio Spurs and will also face the Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons on that weeklong road trip.
When the schedule came out, everyone knew the Magic would have to get their wins early with the way the schedule loads up in January and February. Orlando has to keep winning no matter how they come.
Nov 13, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Andre Roberson (21) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The Cavs, when they’re in the mood, are a sight to behold. LeBron James is averaging the most taken-for-granted 23, 9 and 8 in NBA history, everyone knows their roles, and suddenly Channing Frye is emerging as more of a contributor than you anticipated. The concern, if you want to manufacture one, remains Cleveland’s depth. The lack of a seasoned backup point guard is hard to ignore, but we ask again: Who in the East can really make the Cavs pay for that shortcoming?
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 24th
Remember when visiting teams feared the Mile High air of Denver? These Nuggets were the last team in the league, believe it or not, to win a home game this season, finally breaking through in the past week with W’s over Phoenix and Utah to sandwich around an OT loss to Toronto at the Pepsi Center. On the more hopeful side: Emmanuel Mudiay, pestered constantly about his turnover problems, had 23 assists to just five TOs in those three games we mentioned.
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 21st
The Magic sport the league’s third-worst nightly point differential (-7.3), better only than Dallas (-7.4) and Philadelphia (-10.4). They’re also ranked 28th in offensive efficiency, while not yet nearly as fearsome on D (13th in defensive efficiency) as expected when this group was assembled. You take in all those numbers and inevitably conclude that Orlando has to feel somewhat fortunate to be off to 6-7 start unless that’s merely a function of its favorable schedule so far.
Last week: 0-3 record Last rank: 17th
After the Bucks’ recent narrow setbacks to Dallas and New Orleans, teams that were struggling hugely when they saw them, Giannis Antetokounmpo & Co. really could have used more than the moral victory they scored Saturday night by throwing another almighty scare into Golden State. Milwaukee has suddenly has lost five of six and needs to take advantage of yet another scheduling break that presents two games each against Orlando and Brooklyn between now and Dec. 3.
The Orlando Magic’s statistics do suggest that fall is coming. Perhaps still overweighed by some blowouts earlier in the year, the Magic statistically are not supposed to be two games below .500 right now.
The offense remains the biggest issue. The Magic will have to figure that out to have any chance at reviving their season and making the Playoffs.