Orlando Magic struggling to build momentum, or even one win

The Orlando Magic still talk as if one run can get them to the Playoffs. The focus then should be less on building that streak and winning the next game.

The Orlando Magic’s players and coaches dutifully still talk about the Playoffs.

It is still hard not to state that as a goal, as slim as those chances are. The Magic have fallen to 14th in the Eastern Conference, but they sit 4.5 games out of the final Playoff spot. It is tantalizingly close enough to believe, but the time to make that run is narrowing.

The team believes if it can make a run and string some wins together, it can get back into the Playoff race. Just look at the Miami Heat, now on a nine-game win streak, has climbed to within three games of the final Playoff spot.

A good two- or three-week run can put a team back into the conversation. But time is certainly running out with about 30 games to go. And that pressure is only going to grow with each passing game.

It is easy to think the big picture is impossible with the small picture so bleak. And that small picture is the Magic can barely build a win streak let alone a long stretch to get back into the Playoff race.

“We need to win one game and go from there,” coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s it. You can’t talk about streaks when you are winning one out of every four games or whatever we have been doing since January 1. Momentum starts with one win, that’s our only focus.”

The Magic have lost 14 of their past 18 games since their last win streak. That was the two-game win streak over the Christmas holiday when Orlando defeated the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies. It has been tough to build much momentum since then simply because the team cannot string together wins.

There is no playoff run without that simple step of winning a game and then winning another game. The Magic have not been able to maintain even a .500 record for some time.

Thus they have fallen in the standings.

Invariably every player said the season to this point has been frustrating. It is not the season anyone was hoping for or expected. And invariably, the team will say fixing it and making that run starts with focusing one game at a time, adding on to the sports cliches.

“At some point during the season, we’ve had good stretches,” Evan Fournier said. “But lately, we’ve been really struggling. I don’t really have a reason why. Overall we’re just not playing well. It’s that simple.”

There are some good signs the last three games. At least in the moral victory department, for what little that is worth.

According to Basketball-Reference, the Magic have given up a defensive rating below their season average in each of the past two games. It was the first game the Magic have given up fewer than 100 points in regulation in consecutive games since Dec. 4 against the Detroit Pistons.

That was the last game of the Magic’s defensive surge before the points started coming easy.

That at least seems to suggest the Magic have found something defensively. Then again, they lost both those games. And the one game they won of late was an offensive shootout with the Toronto Raptors. Orlando won that game largely because it had one of its best shooting games this season.

That is the inconsistency of the Magic’s season to this point. Good games seem to come with the tinge of a loss. And wins do not seem to have any sustainability to them.

That has added to the frustration.

“It’s frustrating. Losing is not fun,” Nikola Vucevic said. “We did play better the last three games than we did before. Still a lot of work to do. We are heading in the right direction. Just keep working. It’s just not fun to be in the position we are right now.”

That is of little solace. At some point, the Magic must turn the corner and produce results. That is ultimately what the team will be judged on.

There are moral victories to have, but those are ultimately meaningless. And talks of general improvement not met with wins are the talk of a team focused on rebuilding and growing rather than one aiming for the Playoffs.

That is not who the Magic want to be right now.

“We all had thoughts of being a better team than we are,” Jeff Green said. “Our record shows otherwise. Our play does too. Still have 30 games to go or around there. Make the best out of those and see what happens.”

Despite some fan outcry to begin focusing on the future — and maybe even some bloggers — the Magic are maintaining their belief they can reach the Playoffs. However slim those chances are and may remain.

The focus for the Magic remains pretty narrow. At some point, they know they have to put a win streak together to get there. But it starts with getting back to work and going out and winning the next game.

The Magic have to get a win before they can build a win streak.

“To be honest right now, the thought process should be one game after the other,” Evan Fournier said. “Try to win tonight and not focus on the future. The chances of making the Playoffs are slimmer and slimmer. The right approach is win tonight and see what happens.

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