Losers of 15 of 17, things are turning into a never ending nightmare for the Orlando Magic. Friday night was the same story for a bunch that appear teetering on losing their season completely.
From the start, the Los Angeles Clippers appeared to be the better team, jumping on a lifeless Magic bunch early and often. Yet, the Magic showed some signs of life, cutting into the lead multiple times in the opening half, cutting it to as few as one early in the second quarter.
Yet it wasn't enough.
Orlando's bad habits continued to creep in, holding them back from ever being able to get over the hump against the Clippers bunch coming off a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.
They struggled to keep the Clippers guards, namely Chris Paul, in front of them, with their defense appearing to have more holes than swiss cheese at times. They couldn't consistently hit shots, seeing good, quality looks go begging time-after-time.
"[Y]ou know out whole mantra from the beginning of the season is that out defense has to carry us, particularly when you struggle and we've lost that side of the ball," claimed head coach Scott Skiles. The Magic's defense, which has been in complete free fall since a loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles in December, has turned into the biggest issue for a Magic bunch that already struggles shooting the ball.
Aside from the lackluster play on the defensive end, the Magic have found themselves consistently searching for answers on the offensive side, with players trying to take it into their own hands way too often. Despite getting what Skiles claimed to be "good looks" early, the Magic went just 7-of-27 in the opening quarter, including 3-of-13 combined from Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris.
The Magic, who have shown capable of being a highly efficient offense, plays at it's best when it's players are moving the ball, with five, six or sometimes even seven players finishing in double figures. Friday, they finished with 19 assists on 34 field goals, which, on the surface, is efficient. At the end of the day, they didn't find the right passes all the time, with players being forced to try and finish on their own, something few of the players on the roster currently excel at.
What's even more troubling for the Magic bunch is their appearance when the ball isn't going through the hoop.
When they need their defense the most, it's nowhere to be found. They're consistently letting their struggles on the offensive end dictate how they play on the defensive end, which turn the team upside down even more.
At the end of the day, they need to get it back on one end, and coaches and players both agree it's defensively.
"We have to stick with the system. We actually have to get back to the system," said Skiles. "We're allowing people to attack up and get all the way to the rim and our rim protection hasn't been great either."
A clearly disappointed Aaron Gordon claimed that him and his teammates needed to pick up their intensity on that end of the floor. "We need more discipline with the game plan. Also, when we're in the game and we see that something is not working, we need to be better at making adjustments on the fly."
The usually joyful Oladipo was muted, quietly speaking with the media following the game claiming his team needed to realize that their play on the defensive end is what will win them games. "We've just got to go back to realizing that's what wins games," Oladipo said. "It seems that when our offense isn't going, our defense isn't going either. In all reality, no matter what happens on the other end, we've got to rely on our defense."
Without improvement on the defensive end, the Magic run the risk of losing their season even more. Add in the fact that their grueling schedule the remainder of the season -- the Magic play 20 of their final 32 against teams with winning records, teams they've beaten just four times thus far -- and things could quickly get worse for the Magic bunch.
They believe they can overcome it, however, and won't use the tough schedule the remainder of the season as an excuse.
Gordon said they won't shy away from the challenge, with Oladipo adding they have to accept the challenge, adding that it's the NBA. "We've got to look forward to playing these great teams, because it not only tests you as an individual player, but as a team as well," said Oladipo.
It's been a rough go of it for the Magic lately, and while it mainly boils down to play on the defensive end, their increasing bad habits on both ends are an issue. If they don't get it back quick, the season will be lost, and they could be looking at needing to reset even more.