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Orlando Magic in Familiar Place after 24 Games

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You'd be hard pressed to find any NBA observer who believes the 16-8 Orlando Magic, who have the league's second-highest payroll, are living up to their potential this season. An ugly four-game losing streak raised serious doubts about their standing in the league, and in the bigger picture, 16-8 represents the team's worst start since Stan Van Gundy took over in 2007. How quickly everyone forgets that Orlando looked like a championship contender when it went 10-1 over a three-week period starting on November 13th.

Through 24 games, the Magic own an average scoring margin of plus-5.1; curiously, they had an identical scoring margin at this point of their schedule two years ago, when they went on to advance to the NBA Finals. Their record stood at 18-6, so nobody was really panicking, at the time.

The point here is that, from at least one standpoint, the current Magic team that seems like such a letdown to many of its fans is actually right on track with the 2008/09 squad, which is so beloved. Scoring margin isn't everything, of course. I realize that. But the 2009 team went from "pretty good" to "freaking fantastic" once its three-point shooting corrected itself and the defense took it to antother gear, contending for a championship despite subbing the production of two mediocre point guards (Rafer Alston and Anthony Johnson) for one All-Star one (Jameer Nelson) in mid-February. There's no reason why the current team can't make a similar advance as the season goes along.