When November ended, the Orlando Magic held a 5-10 record and had lost three straight games, all at home. With a five-game roadtrip looming, the Magic looked primed for a drop in the Eastern standings.
Instead of faltering as the calendar turned, however, Orlando has blossomed. It won three of its five games on that roadtrip, including wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors on consecutive nights, and now owns a 7-3 record in December. And as Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus notes, the Magic have been the East's best team in the month.
"The assumption is that Orlando would sneak into the postseason and end up as fodder for a team like Miami," Pelton says. "If the Magic keeps up its December level of play, we'll have to rethink that."
Orlando's adjusted scoring differential, which accounts for strength of schedule, of plus-4.4 in December ranks it sixth in the league and first in the East. Pelton attributes some of Orlando's success to Jacque Vaughn, and floats the first-year head coach's name for Coach of the Year consideration.
Though the Magic remain a woeful offensive squad, Vaughn has his group playing above its station defensively. According to NBA.com's stats tool, Orlando's defense in December ranks third in points allowed per 100 possessions, at 95.2. It's accomplished that feat by defending the three-pointer at the league's second-best rate (30.8 percent) and by not allowing its opponents to get second chances at the basket: the Magic's defensive rebound rate of 78.4 percent in December leads the league.
Whether Orlando can keep up this torrid play if Glen Davis misses any time remains to be seen. The Magic's starting power forward left Wednesday's victory against the Washington Wizards with a left-shoulder injury. There's no word on his prognosis, but he's been one of the most important factors in Orlando's December resurgence, ranking second on the team in per-game scoring (17.8) and rebounding (7.5) while shooting 49 percent from the field.