Assessing the Orlando Magic's Poor Performance in Their Last 6 Road Games

In Stan Van Gundy's first 2 seasons as head coach of the Orlando Magic, he guided his team to a 54-28 mark away from Amway Arena, the third-best road record in the league; only Boston (58-24) and the L.A. Lakers (56-26), the NBA's previous two champions, can claim more road wins during that stretch. Winning on the road was a specialty for the Van Gundy-coached Magic. You were guaranteed an honest effort any time they took the floor.

That trend continued into this season, when Orlando won 10 of its first 12 games away from home. They recorded wins at Boston (previously 5-2 at home) and Atlanta (previously 7-0) during that time, and 2 wins in the Air Canada Centre, where the Raptors are otherwise 12-3 on the season.

But then, something changed. Orlando's lost 5 of its last 6 games on the road, including back-to-back defeats to middling Indiana and Chicago, which has triggered its fanbase to ask what the heck is wrong. How can a team that had been so dominant on the road suddenly lose its mojo? I wanted to find out, so I took a look at the team's advanced splits on both sides of the ball. The results follow the jump.

Orlando Magic Offensive Statistics in Road Games, 2009/10 NBA Season
First 12 Last 6
10-2 Record 1-5
8-4 Pythagorean Record 2-4
110.7 Efficiency 106.0
51.2% eFG% 49.2%
15.6 TO Rate 16.4
24.6 OReb Rate 25.4
25.2 FT Rate 22.3

What we see based on point differential--which is admittedly not strictly an offensive stat, but I wanted to include it somewhere--is that Orlando overachieved in its first 12 road games, posting a 10-2 record with the differential of an 8-4 team. We've also seen that trend even out during their swoon, as they've underachieved, with a 1-5 record but a 2-4 differential.

Offensively, shooting is the biggest culprit in Orlando's rough patch. Their 49.2% eFGs in their 1-5 stretch would rank 18th in the league over the course of a full season. Orlando has simply struggled to score, which Van Gundy noted after the loss to Indiana. From Josh Robbins' game recap for the Orlando Sentinel:

"Look, we're just playing terrible," Van Gundy said. "Offensively, it's just really bad right now. We can't score. We cannot score. I don't know. I need to look at everything."

I'm hesitant to blame a team-wide cold spell on one person, but it's pretty clear that Vince Carter's shooting performance in his last few road games isn't doing the Magic any favors. In the Magic's 6 most recent games away from home, Carter's shot a dismal 32.5% eFGs and 41.1% True Shooting... and this is counting the 34-point performance against the Jazz--the first game of this skid--in which he drilled 5 three-pointers and 11 free throws. If you omit that game, it gets much worse: 25.8% eFGs and 33.0% TS. Recall that True Shooting is merely a measure of points per shooting possessions (field goals and free throws), halved. Carter's produced roughly 0.66 points per shooting possession in his last 5 road games. I originally wrote "that's bad" here, but really, you don't need me to tell you that, do you?

Dwight Howard has struggled to get shot attempts all season, but had still been reasonably efficient due to frequent trips to the foul line. He's 9-of-23 from the field and 11-of-22 from the foul line with 9 turnovers in Orlando's last 3 road games. Minnesota succeeded in pushing him away from the rim, forcing him to take 8 shots within 10 feet but not at point-blank range, while Chicago and Indiana simply denied him the ball. Nothing's coming easily for him, even against teams with weak interior defenders.

The Magic's shot selection reflects their failure to work the ball inside to Howard. In this 6-game stretch, they've taken an astonishing 40.5% of their attempts from three-point range, compared to 35.1% the rest of the season. That increase comes almost entirely at the expense of shots at the rim, which comprise 25.3% of their shots during this 1-5 stretch but 31.2% for the rest of the season. All these statistics come from the [your own superlative here] Hoopdata.com.

Let's take a look at the team's defense now.

Orlando Magic Defensive Statistics in Road Games, 2009/10 NBA Season
First 12 Last 6
104.2 Efficiency 112.9
47.4% eFG% 50.1%
13.2 TO Rate 12.9
21.6 OReb Rate 27.5
21.0 FT Rate 22.2

Orlando's defense has regressed much more than its offense has in its last 6 road games, which is curious because the Magic held the last 5 visitors to Amway Arena below one point per possession. In any case, teams are shooting much better, and rebounding their own misses far more often than they used to. To me, the offensive rebounding issue is a function of effort. I'm playing pop-psychologist here, but perhaps the Magic's success on the road in the last 2 years spoiled them into thinking they could coast through games without trying too hard. That's no longer the case. Chicago and Indiana didn't play especially well in defeating the Magic, but were clearly the more focused, dedicated team. And the offensive rebounding problem extends beyond those games and into the loss at Phoenix three weeks ago. Amar'e Stoudemire beat everyone to Jared Dudley's three-point miss and dunked it home to preserve victory for the Suns. Other than, "try harder," I'm not sure what advice I can offer the Magic with regard to defensive rebounding. Howard's the best rebounder on the planet, while Matt Barnes, Carter, and Ryan Anderson have also pitched in on the defensive glass. Nobody's been able to grab the big rebound for them, though, at least not on the road.

To answer our original question, it appears that Orlando's gotten lazy on both sides of the ball, contributing to its recent road troubles. Carter's taking the lion's share of shots, but converting them at an abysmal rate. Howard, through little fault of his own, hasn't gotten many touches as his teammates either look him off or settle for three-pointers. The defense is even worse, with teams beating the Magic to their own misses and shooting better to boot. The good news is that the problems are fairly easily diagnosed and addressed, and that it's only January. The bad news is that Orlando is already 9 games off last year's pace and is losing ground to Boston and Cleveland in the race for the Eastern Conference's no. 1 seed.

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