Playing for the full 48 minutes
The Orlando Magic have struggled to put together complete, 48-minute games throughout the 2014/15 season. Coach Jacque Vaughn and his players have talked about needing to improve in that area time and again, and yet the same poor effort continues to plague the team. It comes out of the gates either flat or with a lot of energy, and then in the second half it's the complete opposite.
Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets, the Magic played decently in the first quarter, and then fully energized and hard in the fourth. The problem: they were flat and lifeless in the second and third quarters. Those two quarters against the Nets decided the game -- in those two quarters, the visiting Nets outscored the Magic, 64-36, with the Magic outscoring the Nets, 62-36, in the first and fourth quarters.
Saturday night against the Hornets was almost the exact same, with the Magic being outscored 52-29 in the first half, while outscoring the Hornets, 61-46, in the second half.
So the question arises: what gives? Why does the team just not bring it every minute that they're out there? How do they fix that and find a way to play with the energy and heart for the entire game?
Coach Vaughn said that he has to figure out why his team is so fragile.
"I have to find a group that is mentally tough enough to find some adversity in their life and be able to fight through it," he said. "We will continue to challenge our guys. And believe me, I will find a group of men that will want to compete and play with pride every single night."
Part of this problem is the fragile nature of the team, yes. When things start to go bad, they seem to snowball and get even worse when a simple up in energy could help them get things going again on either end.
I think that once they get Aaron Gordon back, things will begin to even out some, but even then, he can only do so much. That being said, he seems like the guy who fits exactly what this team has been missing: someone to continue to play with energy no matter what the situation might be.
This upcoming four-game West Coast road trip is going to be a big one for the Magic. They've played better on the road than at home in 2014/15, and they've got to see if they can find that energy again and carry it back over to the Amway Center. If they struggle like they have over the last few weeks, then we could be looking at things getting even uglier, and the team being in a position to have to make a change as far as coaching, personnel, or leadership. Something will have to give.
Picking out the positives
Despite Saturday's loss, there were a few positives to take away from Orlando's performance against the Hornets.
- They found the energy in the second half, and once again proved that, when faced with adversity, they can make a run. Now, if they had done that in the first half when the game was decided, we could be looking at a completely different outcome. But, nonetheless, they fought through it some and showed some good signs, especially with their offense.
- After turning it over seven times in the first half, the Magic took perfect care of the ball in the second half, not turning the ball over once after intermission. While they took care of the ball, they were able to force the Hornets into mistakes, turning them over eight times leading to 10 points. It's good to see them take care of the ball, especially considering their well documented issues in that area.
- Victor Oladipo, after being relatively invisible in the first half, began attacking and having success. Against smaller guards in Kemba Walker and Gary Neal, Oladipo was able to get to the rim at will, and had success finishing en route to 21 points. On top of that, he got to the free throw line eight times, making all eight of his attempts.
- As a team, the Magic shot 20-of-21 from the free throw line. The charity stripe has been an area of issue for the team periodically this season, and seeing them remedy it some and have some success is huge. They need to be able to carry this over, however, and not get away from driving and getting to the line at a consistent rate.
Odds and Ends
- Coach Vaughn did not have an update on Channing Frye, who left the game in the first half due to a sprained elbow, but did say that the injury happened during the game and was not something that was lingering. He also said that Frye was being checked out by the doctors. An update on Frye's status should come in the coming day or so.
- Orlando made Maurice Harkless a healthy scratch once again. He was not out on the bench with his teammates at all, however, which brings up the question of where he was. He was said to have been getting treatment during the first half of Friday's game, which accounts for his absence that night. Saturday night there was no reason given.