The Orlando Magic continue to spin their wheels with another disheartening and disappointing effort on this road trip. The Magic cannot build momentum.
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Elfrid Payton sat in front of his locker answering questions as the TV cameras and recorders gathered around his air space. He was asked if the team took any solace in the way it played against the Utah Jazz and the career game he had just finished.
Elfrid Payton demurred. There are no more moral victories. This is January, after all. It is past the midpoint of the season and the Orlando Magic are slowly losing grip on the season and their Playoff hopes. He was right, this was not the time to count moral victories.
But if the team was looking to grasp onto positive signs as the team turned toward home on this long West coast road trip, they could find them.
The Magic went toe to toe with the LA Clippers deep into the fourth quarter before running out of gas. It was a game full of energy and execution, on both ends. Orlando held one of the strongest offenses in the league in the Portland Trail Blazers below its average and played one of the team’s better defensive games, showing resiliency after losing a big early lead.
In Utah, the Magic dropped 42 points in the first quarter against one of the best defenses in the league and had a 102-97 lead heading into the dying minutes. Orlando had some good energy and something to build from.
The 13-0 run that ended that game was perhaps the harbinger of things to come. The unraveling of all the good the Magic had built in the last three games. This seemingly is how things go for the Magic. They appear about ready to take a step forward, only to disappoint.
And fall into the abyss once again.
Down into that abyss the Magic went in Monday’s matinee against the Denver Nuggets. The thought of escaping this road trip with a .500 record went out the window quickly as the Nuggets dominated offensively in a 125-112 win at the Pepsi Center.
Denver shot 58.4 percent from the floor and scored 72 points in the paint. Offense was easy for the Nuggets throughout the game. The Magic were unable to get any stops or put any physicality into the game. Orlando was unable to provide any impediment to Denver’s attack.
The Magic’s offense worked about as it did the last month or so. Strong at times. Droughts at the wrong time. And generally not enough to overcome the shoddy defense.
The timing, though, was poor, to say the least. The Magic started this road trip with a poor effort against the Los Angeles Lakers and talking about bringing more energy. They did that in the next three games.
But just like everything else this season, it seems like nothing lasts. Eventually, the team returns to its anemic nature and looks completely outmatched. The Magic lost by 12, but it felt like a much bigger deficit all game and a much larger margin of victory.
This game was never really close. And it never felt like the Magic were going to make a comeback. The defensive will and energy were not there.
It would be impossible to make a comeback with players standing around instead of boxing out, giving up offensive rebounds uncontested. It would be impossible with the team consistently and constantly beat on the pick and roll. The Magic were unenergetic and passive defensively.
This was not a formula to win.
And this was exactly what the Magic did in the previous three games of the road trip. Yes, Orlando got only one win, but those were encouraging efforts. The team played with energy and intention. They got tough when they needed to and gave themselves a chance to win.
With how Orlando played against Denver, there was certainly no chance to win. Not with the lackadaisical effort and slow play from the team. It seemed like the team had reset itself to zero and taken a step back.
The Magic are quickly fading from the playoff race. At 17-26, the team is losing contact with the leaders in the Playoff race. The Magic are closer to the Philadelphia 76ers in the standings than the Playoffs. That is dangerous territory for this team considering its expectations.
It was easy to target this road trip as the proving ground for the Magic. Something of a chance for this team to snap into shape and prove it can make that run or become victim to change. If the Magic want to stay in the Playoff race, they will need a change sooner rather than later. That much is true.
Because every time it looks like the Magic are about to turn some corner and find some consistency. They simply do not.
It feels like every miniature step forward is followed by another step back. Or even two.
That would certainly explain the Magic’s record and their current predicament. This current state of desperation and frustration.
Orlando has shown its ability to respond before. Assuredly, the Magic will follow up a bad game with a good game. That is what they have done all season. They have bounced back and responded with resolve, until they do not. And typically they do not fairly quickly.
This Magic team has been stuck in place and falling behind for a while now. They do not seem able to build momentum. Any kind of momentum. Or carry over effort from one game to the next. Not for long periods of time, at least.