Jan 16, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Orlando Magic center Bismack Biyombo (11) reacts in pain after being injured on a hard foul during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 125-112. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic season seems to be teetering and everyone seems to know it. The small signs of positivity are subsumed with the worry of fading chances.
The Orlando Magic departed for their six-game, 11-day road trip with some optimism. They had played a spirited game against the Houston Rockets and had reason to be encouraged as they headed out West. The Magic have banded together on the road before and could find some consistency away from Amway Center.
The first game seemed like a good confidence builder and the Magic were not facing the absolute best on this West Coast trip. Escape with a .500 or winning record and the team could keep its head above water and stay in the Playoff race.
For sure, the West Coast trip would be the Magic’s last chance to prove they could turn the corner before the team inevitably had to make decisions. Decisions about trades and whether to buy or sell at the deadline — not to mention any seat warmers they would need to purchase for their general manager.
There was pressure, but optimism.
All that began to cook and snuff out the optimism very quickly in this road trip. The first week of the road trip did not go as planned. The Magic lost that seemingly winnable game to the Los Angeles Lakers in a lifeless defensive effort. Orlando seemed to reel it back, fighting the LA Clippers to the end, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers and then taking the Utah Jazz to the end.
That 13-0 run that cost the Magic the game in Salt Lake City seemed a bigger harbinger. The optimism and hope seemed to be dwindling if not snuffed outright.
And that leaves big questions for the Magic the rest of the season. The first half to the season has not gone as planned, of course. The team had only 17 wins through 41 games. That would put them on pace to win fewer games than last year. And that certainly would not be enough to make the Playoffs in the Eastern Conference (although, it is looking like it is competitive in the Western Conference).
Orlando is slowly losing grip on its season. The team has not gained much traction or much momentum. And the question now becomes: What happens next?
Dec 20, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) reacts to a call against the Miami Heat during the first half at American Airlines Arena. The Magic defeated the Heat in a double overtime 136-130. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Warriors don’t have any signature wins or big impressive performances since the meltdown vs. Memphis, but all the other teams slipped in front of them. So headed into their rematch against Cleveland Monday, they re-take the top spot. The good news is their M.O. over the past year is that they’re great at holding leads, so this should be fine.
Last week: 0-2 record Last rank: 15th
Their biggest problem remains that good shooters aren’t hitting shots so far for some reason. But they also just keep finding ways to lose games they should win and if they don’t correct it, it will cost them in the end.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 19th
Hey, they made it all the way to mid-January in the playoff race! That’s swell! I mean, it’s over now as they’ve lost seven of 10, but for a while, hope was a good thing.
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 21st
Philly’s won five of seven, and at this point I’m amazed my computer even let me type that without error messages popping up that read “Did you mean ‘lost five of seven?’” But, no, here we are. Miracles can happen.
Matt Moore has been pretty low on the Orlando Magic all year. But him keeping the Magic in the top-20 is perhaps a sign both of his low expectations for this team and the fact the Magic have enough talent to make you believe but not enough to do anything about it.
Orlando has certainly done a good job treading water. It has been a slow burn out of the Playoff race.
But January has proven itself to be the deciding point for the team again. The road trip and difficult games at home have buried the Magic. And those Playoff hopes are glimmering.
Jan 4, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) drives to the basket as Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) defends during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
It’s kind of annoying from a base entertainment standpoint that the Warriors and Cavs only play twice per regular season. What if the NBA changed the rules so that every year’s Finals teams have to play a three game series every regular season to determine home court advantage for the playoffs? That might be a terrible idea, actually. Whatever. Enjoy Round II, and maybe (probably) see you in June.
Last week: 2-1 record Last rank: 26th
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 23rd
The Magic have hit a wall to start the New Year, but are scoring the ball a bit better their past couple of games. Evan Fournier has been out, but they’re beginning to get more out of Elfrid Payton (28–9–9 in a loss to Utah).
Los Angeles Lakers
Last week: 0-4 record Last rank: 22nd
The Orlando Magic’s offense has actually been OK for a while now. The Magic are 20th in the league in offensive rating since Dec. 1 and 24th since Jan. 1. OK, maybe that is not that good. But considering how abysmal the Magic were on offense to start the season, it feels like the team has come a long way.
There is no denying though, that if that is the positive, things are going wrong for the Magic. Because Orlando is still in the bottom 10 in offense. And the defense has just been as bad.
And that explains why the Magic are the lowest they have ever been in Woo’s power rankings. The Magic are playing like a bottom-five team right now. And they certainly have the talent to be better than this.
Nov 19, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) drives into and fouls Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Amway Center. The Magic won 95-87. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
As the Warriors brace for the challenging week ahead, they’ve been resting at home since Thursday night’s drubbing of Detroit. That game featured Golden State’s ninth 40-point quarter of the season, including two in one game against the Lakers. Golden State is now 8-0 when it posts 40-plus points in a single quarter, 12-0 when it totals 25 or more fast-break points, 13-0 when Draymond Green has at least 10 assists, 13-0 when Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson all score at least 20 points, and 17-0 when it sinks at least 13 3-pointers as a team. As for all of the schedule talk, no one is even thinking about Sunday’s visit to Orlando, a game that will be plenty tricky in itself thanks to a dreaded noon ET tipoff for the West Coasters.
New York Knicks
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 18th
Derrick Rose obviously isn’t wrong when he points to the Knicks’ defense as a key culprit in their 2-10 slide. When we dared to check Sunday morning, New York was 25th in defensive efficiency, 29th in points off turnovers (14.0 PPG), 25th in deflections and 28th in charges taken. The problem here is that the Knicks are two points worse per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor than when he sits … as well as the fact you have to question why he’s the one trying to deliver big messages and/or challenges to his coach in the media when he couldn’t bring himself to text a soul in the organization last Monday when he disappeared for 24 hours on a game day. To the surprise of pretty much no one, these Knicks have used up all the goodwill engendered by their 14-10 start and have devolved into the usual daily soap opera Gothamites have come to expect. And now it’s Melo in the crosshairs.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 28th
The Jazz were 0-9 this season after falling behind by at least 15 points before Saturday night, when the Magic squandered a seemingly healthy cushion in the SLC to waste one of the best games we’ve seen from Elfrid Payton (28 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists) and squelch any momentum that might have started to percolate after Nikola Vucevic (30 points) returned to the starting lineup to spark an unexpected triumph in Portland. With Evan Fournier ailing anew and playoff hope realistically slipping away in Year 1 under Frank Vogel, we await the trade or two most rival teams expect Orlando to make to unclog its frontcourt logjam.
Last week: 0-2 record Last rank: 29th
As time goes on, it would appear to make more and more sense for Miami to keep Goran Dragic beyond the Feb. 23 trade deadline. For at least two reasons. (1) As expertly pointed out by our own Zach Lowe in his latest “Ten Things” dispatch, Miami is sinking into prime draft position just fine even with Dragic on the roster because so much else is missing. (2) Isn’t it smarter for the Heat to wait to see where they lands in the lottery in May — and what kind of shot they’ll have at selecting someone like Washington’s Markelle Furtz or UCLA’s Lonzo Ball — before surrendering The Dragon? As long as Pat Riley is headed for an upper-echelon lottery pick as it is, there’s little reason to rush into a deal. The wiser move might well be waiting to get a better handle on what sort of player Miami will be drafting.
It does feel like the other shoe is about to drop for the Orlando Magic. Their trades are coming. They seemingly have to if this team wants to recoup any of its lost value and reshape itself yet again for a Playoff push in 2018 — or a refocus on its young players. This season, with all the eggs in one basket, is quickly looking like a lost year.
Orlando’s stumble against the Utah Jazz is a crushing blow. It almost assures the team a losing road trip and might have been part of a hangover in Monday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets. And it shows the Magic falling out of the Playoffs.
It seems the most obvious thing for the Magic to do right now is begin testing the Serge Ibaka market. But perhaps that will not be the only thing the team does in what is expected to be an active trade deadline — and perhaps beyond.
Nov 25, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13) reaches for the ball against Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The Cavs will have something new to deal with in Monday’s rematch with the Warriors. Through their first 35 games, the Warriors ran a Curry-Durant pick-and-roll just 2.6 times per contest, and they didn’t run it once in Cleveland on Christmas. Over their last five games, they’ve run it 7.0 times per game, and it’s produced 1.35 points per possession in that stretch. The Cavs have had a lot of success containing Stephen Curry, but the Kevin Durant element in those pick-and-rolls is another story. According to SportVU, the Warriors still run the fewest pick-and-rolls (39.0 per game) in the league.
New York Knicks
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 18th
The Knicks have lost 10 of their 12 games, blew a 10-point lead with less than five minutes to go in Philadelphia on Wednesday, and trailed Sunday’s game in Toronto by 38 points (scoring seven in the third quarter). But the off-court nonsense has somehow been worse than what’s been going on on the court. Derrick Rose went AWOL for Monday’s loss to New Orleans, and the relationship between Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony got even more strained with criticism of Anthony from Jackson’s friend and Anthony’s subsequent reaction.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 24th
The Magic held the Blazers to just 40 percent shooting in Friday’s win in Portland and have the fifth best defense (105.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) against the league’s top-10 offenses. But, after Saturday’s loss in Utah, they’re just 2-10 against that group, with games against the No. 11, No. 8 and No. 2 offenses this week. They’ve won six of their last seven first quarters (each of the last two by 13 points), but have been the league’s second worst team after the first quarter (scoring less than 94 points per 100 possessions) in that stretch.
Last week: 3-1 record Last rank: 27th
The Wolves’ first three-game winning streak of the season featured improved defense (holding Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma City under a point per possession) and 46 assists from Ricky Rubio, who saw an increase in his time of possession and usage rate in a week where Zach LaVine missed two games. Rubio dropped 10 more dimes in Dallas on Sunday, but the Wolves’ bench was a disaster (they were outscored by 26 points in less than 25 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor) as the winning streak came to an end. They were one of 10 teams with a positive bench NetRtg (plus-1.0) prior to that game.
Finally, something positive to say about the Orlando Magic. At least before Monday’s game.
The Magic’s defense Friday night against the offensive-minded Portland Trail Blazers was certainly extremely encouraging. As Schuhmann notes, the Magic tend to lock in defensively against the top offenses in the league.