2016-17 NBA Season Weekly Recap: Orlando Magic
Last week, I posed a question: Do the terms Orlando Magic and “good basketball team” deserve to be in the same sentence? Based on their play in the last week, the answer that was provided to me? The answer is a resounding no! After going 4-1 during a five-game road trip, Orlando promptly laid eggs in the following games since. The offense returned to the gutter where it has called home for most of the season, save for a few games here and there.
After spanking the Wizards in a season-high offensive output, Orlando welcomed the Boston Celtics to town. It’s always a red flag when one team is playing in a back-to-back, especially when travel is needed in between games. Orlando clung on to a one-point halftime lead, and seemed the landmark 4-1 road trip was a season turning point. And then the Magic happened. Orlando allowed a 36-point third quarter, getting outscored by 13 in the frame. If that wasn’t bad enough, they scored only 14 (fourteen!) points in the fourth quarter, while Boston put up 32. If you’re tallying at home, the Magic was outscored 68-37 in the second half. Orlando made 8 of 10 3s in the first half, an unrealistic pace to keep up. Once the shooting slowed in the second half, Orlando had nothing left. Augustin had a solid first half and finished with 15 points, but once Marcus Smart was assigned to Augustin he was effectively taken out of the game. Isaiah Thomas’ absence, Celtics’ best player, made the 117-87 drilling even worse for Orlando.
Two nights later, Orlando traveled to take on the Charlotte Hornets. But their legs stayed home in Orlando. Kemba Walker and the entire Hornets squad tormented Orlando the entire night, always seeming to make the right play. All there needs to be said about this one is Charlotte’s starters did not even sniff the floor in the fourth quarter because they were up so big. Orlando shot just 37.4 percent from the floor due to the typical lack of ball movement and early shots in the shot clock. For the first time since the beginning four games of the season, Orlando allowed its opponents to score at least 100 points in three consecutive games as Charlotte tallied 109 points. Orlando’s defense has begun to slip during the last week or so, after coming on strong since the first five games of the season. Fournier (14 points) and Ibaka (12 points) were the only Magic players to score in double figures, as Orlando’s offense continues to stink (Looks at Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton).
Aight, Boom. So, two-game losing streak, but the struggling Nuggets come to town so Orlando should right the ship, right…right? Wrong! Yes, another back-to-back (second this calendar week), but something has to give. Again, a slow start doomed Orlando. The Magic are not good enough offensively to recover from poor defensive efforts. Orlando allowed the Nuggets to shoot 55 percent from the field during the first half and gave up 65 points. Orlando was forced to call up some dude named Stephen Zimmerman from the D-League due to Vucevic missing the game, but looked helpless against the Nuggets frontline in the six minutes he was given. Denver got whatever they wanted in the paint, outrebounding Orlando 64-34. Though Orlando tied the game at 106 late in the fourth, they simply ran out of gas on their way to a 121-113 loss. Hello, three-game losing streak.
I promise what I’m about to say is not a joke. Atlanta allowed the Magic, you know, the worst scoring team in the league? Yes, them, to score 131 points without overtime. Atlanta allowed Orlando to put up 72 first half points. I mean, I should not be surprised, its Atlanta sports we’re talking about. Payton scored 26 points and 14 assists, both career-highs. Ibaka added 29 points to lead Orlando out of their three-game losing streak, 131-120. Granted, Atlanta is not exactly world beaters (3-12 in last 15 games) but its a start. Orlando had some added motivation going against ol’ half a gallon of milk headed Dwight Howard. Sidenote: This Hawks downtrend can be directly attributed to the post-Orlando Dwight Howard curse but I cannot prove it just yet. Anyway, Vucevic missed this game as well, but other Magicians (can we call them that?) stepped up. Orlando had a season-high 36 assists and a season-high 15 3-pointers.
The whining Clippers came to town Wednesday night. Finally I could say, Aaron Gordon was fantastic finishing with a career-high 33-points on 13-21 shooting. He was scoring from all over the court. I even saw AG hit a 3 curling off of a down screen, talk about tears of joy. But of course, Orlando allowed Austin Rivers to shoot 7 of 10 from the field en route to his best scoring game of the season. Orlando fell to 4-9 at home after losing 113-108. Orlando reverted to hack-a-jordan near the end of third. Yes, it allowed Orlando to outscore the Clippers by nine in the quarter but Jordan went 11-16 from the line in that stretch. Backfired. Vucevic missed his third straight game. Orlando has seen their 3rd ranked defense fall to 16th (104.7 points per 100 possessions) while the defense has seen a slight, very slight, uptick from dead last to 27th best in the league (sounds better than saying 4th worst). With the offense consistently bad, there is a sense of urgency to get the defense back to an elite level. Orlando has no shot to sniff the playoffs if this combination of putrid offense and mediocre defense continues.