Fatigue setting in
Tuesday night, for the third time this season, the Orlando Magic finished a stretch of four games in five nights, this time against the Detroit Pistons. In the other two instances, the Magic posted a record of 2-2. This time? They also went 2-2.
After a win against the Miami Heat on Monday night, their first against the in-state rivals in 10 meetings, the Magic came out flat against the Pistons. Detroit, which had won back-to-back games since cutting ties with forward Josh Smith last week, caught fire in the second quarter and never looked back. The loss was one of the more lopsided ones of the season for the Magic, and they looked like the schedule was finally starting to catch up to them.
A four-game-in-five-night stretch is one of the most brutal in the entire league, but following the game, the Magic wouldn't use it as an excuse
"When you get out there and you play a game, no matter how many games you play, you're out on the floor," said Tobias Harris said. "They're on the road; they traveled to the game. There's not an excuse." Harris later added he's not one to make excuses.
Victor Oladipo, who was clearly frustrated following the game, added that the team has to learn to play those games, be it four in five nights or worse. "Whatever that may be, we've got to find a way to win. They came out scorching, they finished scorching, and Jodie Meeks is probably still scorching right now. Credit them. They played well."
When asked about the schedule, coach Jacque Vaughn said to give the Pistons credit for making shots, playing hard, and being ready to play.
"I think overall, four in five nights was tough on out guys tonight," he said. "I've said it before, we need production from our guys every single night to give ourselves a chance to win."
Vaughn also talked about talking to his players about what they did following their win in Miami, and their preparation prior to the loss to the Pistons. "All that goes into being better next time we have four in five."
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was asked if his team was able to wear down an already tired Magic team, to which he responded, "They looked a little tired, yeah, absolutely." Van Gundy also added that the schedule is tough, and that it certainly was a factor tonight, but "I don't know if it was a 25-point factor."
Orlando's games on Friday and Saturday night against the Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets, both at home, will conclude a stretch of six games in nine nights. Following those games, the team will embark on a four-game trip to the West Coast, which will include stops in Denver, Los Angeles and Portland, before culminating in Chicago, which will mark the halfway point in the Magic's season. Following that, the team will play 26 of their final 41 games at home and have no stretches of four in five nights.
The first half of the season was a gauntlet for the Magic, and it's beginning to show. Luckily for them, it's almost over, and the schedule will finally begin to even out, and potentially allow the team to begin to make a run towards a playoff berth.
One night after taking 37 fewer free throw attempts than Miami, the Magic once again struggled to get to the free throw line, attempting just 10 free throws, to the Pistons' 29. While a good chuck of those came from Andre Drummond, who shot a dreadful 5-of-16 from the charity stripe, it's still worrying that the Magic aren't able to earn foul shots with regularity.
While they haven't been getting to the line, they have been trying. There have been multiple instances over the last two games where Magic players have driven, drawn contacted, and not been rewarded with a trip to the foul line. It's been tough for the players, as well as Coach Vaughn, who's clearly been frustrated multiple times over the last few nights.
After the game, Vaughn was asked about it the discrepancy."We'll keep going to the rim, like Vic did tonight, till they call it," said the third-year head coach. Vaughn has been seen clearly arguing with officials about non-calls, and his frustration showed in his voice, despite the short answer.
As Vaughn said, pretty much all the Magic can do is continue to work and drive the ball to the basket until the officials make calls. If players continue to attack and draw contact, they'll start to get to the line more. Once they get there, they have to make the shots, and that's a whole other story.