Dec 2, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) and forward Serge Ibaka (7) celebrate a score against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Orlando Magic won 104-88. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic hit the road for the first big road trip and found a bit of their identity to win three games. They rose up the power rankings thusly.
Last week, the Orlando Magic were sinking.
They lost three games at home during the Thanksgiving break before heading out on a difficult five-game road trip and it seemed like the season was nearing a turning point. Frank Vogel changed his lineup for a second time and, despite a growing defensive identity, and needed to reconfigure some things.
The new lineup has led to a bit more offensive and defensive balance. The Magic continue to run away as the hottest defense in the league and the offense has been at least average the last week.
The Magic went out on the road to start a five-game trip last week with few hopes of experiencing success after those home losses. Instead they defeated the San Antonio Spurs, blew out the Philadelphia 76ers and toppled the Detroit Pistons. Ignore that hiccup in Memphis against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Sitting at 3-1 on the road heading into Tuesday’s game against the Washington Wizards (and the only four-games-in-five-nights stretch this season), the Magic have to feel like they are playing somewhat with house money as they head home for a more balanced and home-heavy back half of December.
If Orlando has intentions of making its Playoff push, it would appear this week would be the catalyst.
Of course, the Magic have said that before. They have struggled to put together consecutive strong weeks. And this week will not be easy.
Despite all the defensive accolades and attention, the Magic still are 9-12 and struggling to find consistency. They are fighting to remain in the Playoff hunt early in the season.
Whether anyone is beginning to believe in this team or is overly impressed with what the Magic did this past week is part of this week’s Power Rankings Roundup.
To be sure, Orlando has to start matching these solid weeks to begin gaining some momentum toward its Playoff bid.
Nov 11, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) points after he makes a basket against the Utah Jazz during the second half at Amway Center. Utah Jazz defeated the Orlando Magic 87-74. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Warriors will never go under the radar, but last week was a particularly eventful one around the West champs. Draymond Green put a focus on the defensive end of the floor with a couple of late blocks in Monday’s win over the Hawks and then got back to his kicking habit against the Rockets and Suns. Steve Kerr grabbed some headlines himself and Kevin Durant actually missed some shots (1-for-7) in the extra 10 minutes of Thursday’s loss to Houston. After hosting the Pacers on Monday, they’ll have a five-game trip that takes them from L.A. to New Orleans in just seven days.
Los Angeles Lakers
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 13th
The Lakers have scored just 97.3 points per 100 possessions in their nine games without D’Angelo Russell and are now without Nick Young, but got an out-of-nowhere, defensive win in Chicago on Wednesday. Jose Calderon has shot 48 percent as a starter, but the Lakers have scored a paltry 86 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, with turnovers being a big issue. They have the league’s fifth highest turnover rate and the league’s fifth highest rate of live-ball turnovers to dead-ball turnovers (59 percent of their turnovers have been live balls).
Last week: 3-1 record Last rank: 28th
The Magic have the league’s No. 1 defense (by a pretty wide margin) over the last 3 1/2 weeks and have shown some signs of life offensively with their new rotation. They’ve scored 105.7 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won three of their last four games, beating both the Spurs and Pistons on the road. The scoring has been pretty balanced, with no player scoring more than 21 points in any of the three wins. They had a chance to win Thursday’s game in Memphis too, but blew a 14-point lead with a little more than six minutes to go and turned the ball over with a chance to win in the final seconds.
Last week: 0-4 record Last rank: 11th
Yikes. The Hawks have lost nine of their last 10 games (scoring less than a point per possession in all 10) to fall below .500 and out of the top eight in the East. Paul Millsap (sore hip) has been missed over the last three games, but his absence doesn’t exactly explain losses by 36 and 44 points to the Pistons and Raptors over the weekend. The players have cited ball movement as an issue and they’ve averaged just 2.87 passes per possession over the last 10 games, down from 3.23 in the first eight. This is the second straight season they’ve seen an offensive efficiency drop-off of more than three points per 100 possessions, from 106.2 in 2014-15 to 103.0 last season to 99.1 this year.
The Magic had the biggest rise in this week’s power rankings from NBA.com’s John Schumann, moving up nine spots.
That will happen when you statistically have the best defense in the league and pick up some nice road wins. The Magic still have plenty of questions, as Schumann is quick to point out himself. Their net rating overall suggests they are a bottom-10 team.
But with that defense, the Magic will always give themselves a chance to win.
Nov 16, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) points after he made a basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
While the loss to the Houston Rockets showed us that this team is in fact human again, that impression of them being superhuman didn’t take long to come right back to the forefront of the news. Klay Thompson, arguably the fourth best player on this team dropped 60 points in three quarters last night. Just let that sink in. Seriously, 60 points in 29 minutes that shoudn’t even be possible. STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS. Now that you are back I think you now properly understood just how much my back is against the wall here. Nothing I write could possibly hold a candle to watching what Thompson did to a bunch of other grown men last night. It’s silly for someone to even think it’s possible. But, then what should I talk about with the Golden State Warriors? I mean I could go on about Draymond Green’s reckless flailing and how it could once again cost the Golden State Warriors when they need him most, but I’m sure you’ve heard all the hot takes and jokes about Green’s limbs by now. I really can’t explain the amazement that this team inspires sometimes. So instead of trying I’m just going to stop here and leave you with this: *whispers* this might be the greatest basketball team of all time.
Last week: 0-3 record Last rank: 19th
Things for the Denver Nuggets haven’t been great lately. In their last three games they have lost two at home and one game at Utah. They have also been without last year’s analytics-based Rookie of the Year, Nikola Jokic for the last two games as he recovers from a wrist injury. This team really needs to make a move — December 15th is fast approaching and if they aren’t yet, Denver’s phones will be ringing off the hook by then. They have 10 players playing over 20 minutes a night (Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Jameer Nelson, and Jusuf Nurkic) and all 10 are scoring over nine points per game. One, if not more, of those names will likely be changing addresses when the trade deadline dust settles. It’s unlikely to be Murray, Jokic or Nurkic so fire up the ESPN Trade Machine and start pumping out crazy deal after crazy deal that allows your favorite team to bring in Gallinari or Barton or whomever on the cheap. At some point the Nuggets will need to try to turn their collection of okay to good pieces into something great. The right general manager can swoop in and get something good for his team from the Nuggets this year.
Last week: 3-1 record Last rank: 22nd
The Orlando Magic have won three of their last four games and I might be even more confused about this team than I had been. Not because I’m second-guessing my original hypothesis about the pieces of this team being wrong for each other, but because I feel like they’re starting to think they can make it work. They have stopped playing Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon together with two traditional big men and have looked to D.J. Augustin as the new starter at point guard over the last five games. The best thing I’ve seen on the court from the Magic this season is Serge Ibaka’s double thumbs down post-rejection celebration. Not only has he one-upped the Roman Empire, but he’s made the thumbs down mainstream again. Beside being turned into an emoji, the thumbs down gesture had been a bit of an afterthought amongst today’s celebrations. Still the Magic are a mess and they are going to hit a point in the season where Frank Vogel’s coaching is no longer good enough to sneak out wins in games they have no right to win. Vogel has been the best choice this front office has made during their tender. I’m not sure the good people of Orlando, Florida should necessarily be happy that the very same group will have a chance to swing and miss in the NBA Draft Lottery again.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 25th
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a NBA League Pass must-watch team. They look like an unbeatable juggernaut for half of almost every game they play. Then they somehow find a way to implode — usually during third quarters — and present fans with an entertaining back-and-forth game in the fourth quarter. Is it possible that we the fans and media put too much expectations on a team that is led by three 21-year-olds? (Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins were all born in 1995). Tom Thibodeau is a great coach and that trio of youngsters is one of the best — if not the best — young cores in all of the NBA. Yet, winning games isn’t easy and the Timberwolves had been a losing franchise for so long that it can’t be turned around that quickly. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the impending Minnesota dynasty (if it ever comes to fruition). In the future, when the Timberwolves are running the Western Conference we’ll look back on this season and laugh. People will say things like: “Remember when we thought Andrew Wiggins was a bust?”, or “Remember when we thought Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t have a killer instinct at 21?”, or “Remember when we thought Zach LaVine was JUST a dunker?”
The Orlando Magic certainly have a way of confounding. Which is probably why those that already had a proclivity to doubt the team — and there was plenty of reason — are not quite ready to buy in.
Then again, as many in the Magic fan base — and likely front office — would say: it has been five years. The Magic need to show some results. So as long as they can delude people into believing they can turn things around, they will try to do so.
May 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan talks with media as Frank Vogel is introduced as the new head coach during a press conference at Amway Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Warriors have scored at least 125 points seven times already this season; no team in the NBA universe did so more than five times in its first 20 games of the season since the 1990-91 campaign. But we should note that the Dubs, who’ll take a six-game winning streak over their old friends from Clipperland into the teams’ Wednesday night showdown at Staples Center, are somehow only 1-2 at home when the Committee (of One) is in the building and 16-1 in all other games. Hopefully Golden State doesn’t hold us responsible.
Los Angeles Lakers
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 15th
The injuries, unfortunately, are really starting to pile up, but what made the 10-10 start so fun was that the Lakers, facing one of the league’s three hardest schedules to date, were the underdog in 17 of those 20 games, according to our trusty Basketball Power Index. The only games in which they were favored: Nov. 6 vs. Phoenix (W), Nov. 8 vs. Dallas (L) and Nov. 15 vs. Brooklyn (W). Don’t forget that they didn’t win their 10th game last season until Feb. 2. Or that they were forced to play without D’Angelo Russell in seven games.
Last week: 3-1 record Last rank: 26th
Local pressure is mounting on Magic GM Rob Hennigan. But the Magic, in response, just assembled their finest week of the season under new coach Frank Vogel, stunning the Spurs in San Antonio and spoiling Reggie Jackson‘s return in Detroit under former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to give themselves a shot a 4-1 road trip when they visit Washington on Tuesday night. Orlando has quietly risen to No. 3 in defensive efficiency and easily could have been 4-0 on the trip, don’t forget, if not for a one-point loss at Memphis.
Last week: 0-4 record Last rank: 13th
Looking at the “Last 10” category in the standings is somewhat remedial in this era of advanced stats, but it’s worth a glance on this Rankings Monday as we try to make sense of what’s happening to the unraveling Hawks. For all of the various issues we can try to pinpoint — hopefully these tweets shed some light on the sudden struggles we’ve seen from these guys at both ends — but who ever imagined Atlanta going 1-9 in any stretch of games and losing two in a row (even with Paul Millsap out) by a combined 80 points? Eighty!
The Orlando Magic are certainly under pressure. Thus the rumors popping up that the Magic will look for scoring when the trade market opens up next week. That was really not a surprise. That was something that seemed obviously necessary as the team struggle at home last week.
The Magic though have responded and deserve some recognition for coming together in the last week. The play from this road trip is nothing to sneeze at.
Dec 2, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) blocks the shot of Philadelphia 76ers forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Golden State has now won 106 straight regular season games without consecutive losses. As for the post-season… awkward.
Los Angeles Lakers
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 14th
The Lakers appear to be regressing back into the fun-but-distinctly-not-good tier of teams, but Lou Williams just went for 40 in the year 2016. The fun is all we need from them this season.
Last week: 3-1 record Last rank: 23rd
The defense, as we predicted, is effective. The Magic owns the league’s third-best defensive rating, allowing a solid 100.8 points per 100 possessions. The team’s overall performance has been way harder to peg.
New Orleans Pelicans
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 22nd
If the Pelicans make the playoffs, Anthony Davis should probably be the MVP, but they probably won’t, so he probably won’t be. Basketball can seems so simple, sometimes.
The Orlando Magic indeed are a tough team to peg. But that defense has become so consistent. That should give the team a chance.
The Magic are currently third in the league in defensive rating. Since the first lineup change a month ago (Nov. 11), the Magic have the top defensive rating in the league. Seemingly by a mile.
The rest of the team, though, still has a lot of pieces to fit together. This week seemed to show that things might work for a while. But everyone is on edge for the other shoe to drop.
Dec 1, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) attempts to steal the ball from Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
That win streak had to come to an end at some point, though the Stephen Curry vs. James Harden arguments were only given additional fuel when it was the Rockets’ ending it at 12 games. Still, the Golden State Warriors bounced back well enough by throttling Phoenix by 29 points and slapping up 138 on the scoreboard in the process.
Last week: 0-4 record Last rank: 11th
Not having Paul Millsap for the last three games is obviously a problem, but nobody was expecting the Atlanta Hawks to combust quite like this. Mike Budenholzer’s squad has now lost nine of its last 10 games, including a hard-fought loss to the Dubs, an ugly two-point loss to the Suns, a 26-point rout to the Pistons and a 44-point trouncing at the hands of Toronto.
Last week: 3-1 record Last rank: 25th
Typical Orlando Magic. Right when we were berating their 6-11 start despite having the most favorable early schedule in the NBA, they rattle off a 3-1 week, including a double-digit win over the Spurs. In fact, if Elfrid Payton had a jump shot, the Magic were one broken last-second play from pulling out a W in their only loss of the week too.
Last week: 2-2 record Last rank: 24th
One thing is certain: The Miami Heat are a very different team when they have a healthy Goran Dragic on the floor. Even with Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow out, the Heat managed a 2-2 week with the Dragon back in the lineup.
The Orlando Magic are indeed a tough team to peg. Just when it seems everyone is ready to bury them, the Magic come out and look like world beaters, capable of beating anyone. Well, they did beat the San Antonio Spurs on the road.
The Magic have to back things up, as I have said repeatedly on these Power Rankings. But it does appear the team is putting something together.
Nov 27, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel talks with a referee in the first half against the Milwaukee Bucks at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Lost to the Rockets … still here. Spurs have won 11 of 12 and have a heads-up win over them? Warriors still here. The Clippers’ losing streak was too much, the Spurs’ defensive performance has been too bad and the Cavs had struggled. So here we are, despite everything, and without much of a signature win to their resume, the Warriors are on top. That’s kind of the story of this season. The Warriors are the best, but it’s not an impressively dominant best. But best is best and nothing is better than best.
Portland Trail Blazers
Last week: 3-0 record Last rank: 15th
The schedule is about to get road-heavy, and tough. We’re about to see if they can really take this 30th-ranked defense on the road and get wins. The good news is that Al-Farouq Aminu is almost back and he really does make that much of a difference.
Last week: 3-1 record Last rank: 26th
I was convinced after two weeks this was the worst team in the league, but after really diving into their games, I understand this team a whole lot better. They’re OK. Not great, and some nights not very good at all, but there’s still talent there and Frank Vogel has got them defending at a great level.
Los Angeles Lakers
Last week: 1-4 record Last rank: 18th
Here’s the dilemma. The Lakers had a positive net point differential overall before D’Angelo Russell went down with a knee injury. But they were worse in that stat with Russell on the floor. Now they have a negative point differential, and are worse than they were with Russell on the court. So trying to figure out if having him would have really helped as the schedule has gotten tougher is worth asking. Obviously Russell’s talented, a good player, but the Lakers’ woes that have brought them back down below .500 are more subtle. L.A. has lost five of seven.
This is probably the most accurate description of the Magic.
At the beginning of the season, they very well might have been the worst team in the league (non-tanking division). And it was frustrating and disappointing.
Since then, the Magic have shown signs of life. Looked good enough to compete. Good enough to win on some night. And then other nights insanely bad.