Nov 14, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel reacts to a foul call in the second half of the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana Pacers beat the Orlando Magic 88-69. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic are three weeks into their season and have had some wild swings. They have had some wild swings in two days. So who are they still?
The Orlando Magic are three weeks into their season and it is still hard to get a handle on who they are.
The team was supposed to have a defensive identity and that has not quite taken hold. The Magic still have one of the worst defenses in the league. Frank Vogel has implemented a lineup change to try and spark the team and refocus them in some way.
Those results have been mixed just like everything else so far this season.
Last week was a particularly troubling week for the Magic. They got blown out embarrassingly against the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves. Their offense sputtered against the Utah Jazz.
Then came the breakout win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Or at least what seemed like a breakout win. Monday, the Magic laid an egg offensively against the Indiana Pacers, losing by 19 points despite holding the Pacers to less than 90 points.
More than 10 games in now and it is hard to tell who or what this Magic team is supposed to be. Vogel certainly could continue some lineup tinkering. In the meantime, the games still count.
This team is still very hard to figure out — as Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux tried to discuss on the latest episode of Dunc’d on Basketball:
The power rankings this week reflect the Magic’s uncertain status. They remain a team near the bottom and optimism is short considering their poor statistics and play — specifically last week.
The Magic still have a long way to go to get where they want to be. Fortunately, the schedule seems to be in their favor to try to figure some things out.
Straight up, this team reminds me of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. From the aging point guard to the star power forward whose impact is overlooked, to how everyone has dismissed them because of past playoff performances. All the way down. In November of 2011, I said the Mavericks were playing like a legitimately dangerous playoff team. Then Nowitzki got hurt and everyone overlooked them for six months. Don’t lose sight of how this team is playing, not just in terms of wins, but the style and fun energy they’re playing with.
New York Knicks
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 20
This is not a totally worthless team, so that’s a plus. They just have these stretches where the entire thing completely falls apart. They’re like the cooky machine of a zany scientist in one of those 1970’s Disney films whose wild contraptions keep failing.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 19th
Got their best win of the season Sunday vs. the Thunder. I still can’t buy into this team but just when I think they’re going off the cliff, they pull themselves back.
Last week: 0-4 record Last rank: 18th
Sure, they’ve had another irritatingly predictable spate of injuries, and their prized second-year point guard’s biggest problem involves dribbling and not giving it to the guys wearing the other laundry, and their frontcourt is such a logjam you think Michael Malone might be just spinning a random wheel on the sideline for rotations. But other than that, things are pretty good in Denver.
Hard to argue here. The Magic are doing enough to show flashes of everything their talent can be still, but the fit is still far from perfect. Far from perfect.
Statistically, the Magic have the second worst net rating in the league, almost certainly weighed down by three blowout defeats including two last week. And their offensive and defensive rating are in the bottom five.
Those are all signs of a team not headed for the Playoffs, but certainly destined for the lottery. It suggests the Magic’s record is better than it is.
Nov 5, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Washington Wizards 88-86. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The gravity of President Obama making jokes about J.R. Smith’s shirt wasn’t lost on anyone this week, but it only further underscored the fact that the Cavaliers remain on top of the world. As ESPN pointed out, Cleveland is now the first team ever to hit double-digit threes in its first nine games. They’ve got an identity and the swagger of a reigning champion. There could be even better basketball ahead, and the Cavs have been close to unbeatable already.
Last week: 0-4 record Last rank: 22
There are a lot of somewhat iffy teams. It’s really hard to know what’s what. But the Nuggets have lost four in a row.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 19th
Nice to see Serge Ibaka get a little revenge in Oklahoma City, but this start (three two-point wins, five double-digit losses) has been far from convincing.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 27th
Phoenix is young and promising, yes, but has just one win in regulation and has yet to hold an opponent under 100 points. But, uh, nothing a six-game road trip can’t fix…
Serge Ibaka’s career-best game Sunday was a very nice story. He had 31 points including the game winner.
Then he came back to earth, making just 3 of 13 shots against the Indiana Pacers.
Thus is Ibaka’s inconsistency this season. He has not quite been what the Magic want him to be on either end of the floor. But the good news is he does look a little more engaged defensively. That should make the Magic a little better moving forward.
Oct 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) drives to the basket as Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) defends during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Indiana Pacers 114-106. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Clippers have been a championship-caliber team for years now, but their 9-1 start to the season feels different. Maybe it’s because everyone knows this might be the last hurrah for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Maybe it’s because the Warriors and Spurs haven’t morphed into the Western juggernauts we thought they’d be. Or maybe it’s just because they have the best record in the league.
Last week: 0-3 record Last rank: 16th
Last week, we said the Miami Heat might be better than their 2-3 record indicated. This week, after going winless in three tries, their 2-6 record pretty much put that nonsense to rest.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 23rd
Much will be made of the Orlando Magic’s silly decision-making to sacrifice youth for a (likely failed) playoff run, especially as it pertains to their overloaded frontcourt. But if they were to win any game this week, they probably would’ve picked Serge Ibaka‘s return to Oklahoma City Sunday night.
Luckily, and somewhat unfortunately, that’s the only win they picked up during this week’s four-game slate that included Aaron Gordon being demoted to bench duty, Elfrid Payton earning fewer minutes than D.J. Augustin in one game and the Magic losing by 31 (Bulls), 16 (Timberwolves) and 13 (Jazz). Before Sunday, Ibaka was averaging a lethargic 12.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Here’s hoping he treats every game like his revenge game Sunday, when he dropped 31 points, nine rebounds and the game-winner on his former team.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 24th
The Phoenix Suns can talk all they want about building a new culture, but the on-court results haven’t been pretty. That’s to be expected of a promising group of youngsters, but Devin Booker‘s shooting woes highlighted an up-and-down 1-3 week.
As time passes, it is looking more and more like the Orlando Magic’s plan to push all in for the Playoffs in 2017 was something of a mistake. At least the way they went about it — initially trading Tobias Harris for cap space and then Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka — did not maximize the assets they had to give them a fair shot.
The Magic’s 4-7 start now, after Monday’s game, has been filled with nothing but inconsistency. The tam has yet to establish an identity — even with the defensive firepower they acquired in the offseason.
As I always say, panicked moves are how mistakes get made. The Magic had the right idea opting to push in and push this team forward, but went too far into the deep end early in the season.
Nov 13, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) dunks the ball in front of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Domantas Sabonis (3) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
After scoring just 98 points per 100 possessions in their first five games, the Clippers have scored 117 over their last five, with their starting backcourt shooting 25-for-45 (56 percent) from 3-point range and Chris Paul dishing out more than seven assists for every turnover. Still defending well, they led two games last week (over Detroit and Portland) by more than 40 points. Friday’s close win in Oklahoma City was their last road game against a team currently over .500 before they visit Cleveland on Dec. 1.
Last week: 1-2 record Last rank: 22nd
Dave Joerger has slowed the Kings down considerably. After leading the league in pace last season, they rank 29th this year. That may be one reason why eight of their 11 games (including each of the last four) have been within five points in the last five minutes. They fought back from a double-digit deficit in Portland on Friday, but couldn’t get stops in overtime. They’re now in the middle of four days off before a five-game homestand. But the five teams coming to town have a cumulative record of 34-14.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 19th
The Magic roller coaster keeps going up and down, with two three-game losing streaks sandwiching a three-game winning streak. The latter losing streak, in which they were outscored by more than 21 points per 100 possessions was particularly brutal. But Serge Ibaka’s incredible return to Oklahoma City on Sunday (career-high 31 points, four blocks and the game-winning jumper) and their best offensive game of the season (against what was a top-five defense) got them back on the winning side, with five of their next six games against teams that currently have losing records.
Last week: 1-1 record Last rank: 24th
The Mavs have played five of their eight games without Dirk Nowitzki, who they hope to have back in New York on Monday. Nowitzki’s absence has allowed Harrison Barnes to take over the offense, and Barnes’ true shooting percentage is at a career-high 57.8 percent with his usage rate having seen a huge jump. But he has taken 65 percent of his shots from between the restricted area and the 3-point line, down from 40 percent in his four seasons with the Warriors. If his mid-range shooting comes back down to earth a bit, he’ll need to get to the basket more.
There is a bit of that roller coaster pattern to the Magic’s season. They lost their first three games. Then won their next three. Then lost their next three.
Then they had the big win against Oklahoma City, followed by the loss to the Indiana Pacers.
It does look like the Magic are trending toward some stability and consistency, but it is still pretty far away. The results from Monday’s game were not overly encouraging.
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost their first game of the year to the Atlanta Hawks. While that would usually be the biggest story of the week for a formerly undefeated team it’s not in this case. The bigger story for the Cavs is just how much of a backseat LeBron James has taken to both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love this year. 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists a night aren’t pedestrian numbers for most, but most people aren’t LeBron. With LeBron easing back it’s allowed Love to get back to the 20-10 player we all knew and loved during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s also allowed Irving to shoot 20 shots a game and lead the team in scoring (23.9 PPG). I don’t think this is a full on passing of the torch from King James to Irving, but I do think that we will see this trend continue throughout the duration of the regular season. James knows that he needs to be at his best come June and for that to happen he needs to coast whenever possible in the regular season. James also knows that he needs his teammates to be at their best come June too and if that is going to happen he can use the 82-game regular season to make sure that they are clicking on all levels.
Last week: 2-2 record Last rank: 24th
The Brooklyn Nets are doing all they can to make Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics look worse and worse for not trading the 2017 Nets pick when they had the chance to in the offseason. Now, what most thought was a guaranteed high-lottery pick heading into the season, looks more likely to fall outside of the top 10 when the ping pong balls decide the draft order in May. Even without their best player–yes, Jeremy Lin is the best player on an NBA team now–Brooklyn was still able to get the best out of their group this past week. Kenny Atkinson’s name is going to be in the running for Coach of the Year if the Nets are able to keep up their impressive start.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 21st
After it looked like the Orlando Magic hit rock bottom a week ago, they were able to dig themselves slightly out of the hole with a late game victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. In his first game back in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Serge Ibaka had a career night. He posted a career-high 31 points and drilled the game winning jumper over the outstretched arms of Steven Adams. While the revenge was certainly sweet for Ibaka it will only masks the problems of the team from Disney World for only so long. Then, just when Magic fans thought it was safe to come out of hiding they have Monday night’s stinker against the Indiana Pacers rained down upon their head. Orlando was only able to score 69 points. There really isn’t much else to say about a team after that.
New York Knicks
Last week: 2-2 record Last rank: 20th
The New York Knicks are who we thought they were and by we, I mean me, of course. The additions of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were nice on paper and in NBA 2K, but in the real world they have been pretty average moves on the whole. Well, given the product that has been put on display in Madison Square Garden the past couple of years Knicks fans will gladly take average over what they’ve been receiving of late. The triangle offense is rarely run and Jeff Hornacek’s promise to push the tempo looks to be falling flat on its face most nights. A blowout home victory over the Dallas Mavericks should help boost morale around the Fifth Avenue boys, but any visions of grandeur that people had in the offseason about this team should be well put to bed by now. The focus of this team should really be on how they can further improve Kristaps Porzingis’ game. He got time at the center spot against Dallas and naturally he flourished in the spot. Hopefully we continue to see tinkers and adjustments like this from the Knicks moving deeper into the season.
The Orlando Magic show signs. And Sunday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder was a big win that showed a lot of signs of promise. Then they retreat back into their shell.
The Pacers game was a reminder of just how har dit is going to be for the Magic to take that next step and reach consistency.
Orlando seems still to be on an upswing, but Monday’s loss is a sobering reminder of how much work there is left to do.
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 sting of losing their unbeaten record sure didn’t last long for the Cavs, who clearly savored the privilege of proceeding to a White House visit that we know more about than any previous White House trip for an NBA team thanks to this revealing reporting from our intrepid pal Rachel Nichols and The Jump cameras. It’s clearly a good time to be The King when LeBron James becoming the youngest player to crack the 27,000-point plateau is the sidebar story of the week.
Last week: 1-1 record Last rank: 18th
Friday’s Parsons Bowl in Dallas naturally stands out from a headline perspective, with Chandler Parsons poised to take on his old Mavs friends, but the Grizzlies have two daunting road games before that one that will require their full attention. Memphis plays Monday in Utah, then Wednesday in Los Angeles against the Clippers, with neither assignment looking especially appealing when the Grizz are unhappy with their defense and still don’t have Tony Allen back.
Last week: 1-3 record Last rank: 21st
We’ve had so many high-profile reunion games already this month that Orlando’s trip to Oklahoma City on Sunday night sneaked up on us completely. Figures, then, that it turned out to be maybe the best one of the lot so far, with Serge Ibaka finally showing Orlando what he can do with the game of his life (31 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, game-winning jumper) to preserve a win for the Magic after they squandered a 21-point lead with Russell Westbrook (41 points, 16 assists, 12 rebounds) going bonkers.
Last week: 0-3 record Last rank: 17th
Apologies to Dwyane Wade, as well as Hassan Whiteside amid a stats-fest from the Miami big man that probably isn’t getting the attention it deserves, but the email Pat Riley sent to D-Wade last week is the only thing we want to know about, talk about, etc., when it comes to the Heat right now. Do we, at the very least, get points for honesty? P.S.: OK, OK. If you know the Committee by now, you’re calling us out on the fact that, yes, we’re plenty worried about Goran Dragic‘s ankle, too.
Everyone is still going a bit bonkers for Ibaka’s performance agianst the Oklahoma City Thunder. He got a NBA2K My Team Moments challenge for it, in fact.