An NBA season is a long, grueling, twisting, winding ride. Things aren’t always going to smooth, there’s always going to bumps in the road, be it injuries hitting the team, or a period of poor play.
For the Orlando Magic, that stretch has hit them particularly hard in recent years, sending them tumbling down the standings and out of contention for a playoff spot.
Now, standing at 14-19 after an ugly home loss to the Miami Heat, the Magic are once again staring that troubling tumble dead in the eyes.
Losers of three in a row and six of eight overall, the Magic can slowly see their season once again slipping from their grasps. Be it from the hectic travel schedule — the Magic spent 20 of 28 days on the road after hosting the Toronto Raptors at home before Thanksgiving — or overall fatigue from a tough start to the season, the Magic have lost their way of play.
From a team that was whipping the ball around the court to find open shots, and penetrating and forcing the defense to collapse, the Magic have suddenly turned into a team that’s not moving the ball, and forcing shots on many possessions. Their quality has gone down so drastically on the offensive end that they hold the lowest field goal percentage (41.5) over their last ten games.
Moreover, they find themselves tied with the Chicago Bulls for the lowest offensive rating (98.4), and have the third worst net rating (-8.8) in the league over that same time period.
“Obviously we’ve lost our way a little bit, actually a lot, which happens during an NBA season,” said coach Steve Clifford following Sunday night’s loss. “We have two days here to regroup and get better. It’s never as bad as it seems in a moment like after you play two or three games like this. It’s also, when you’re winning, never as good.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing in this league, and the important thing is we have to get back to making progress. We’re not nearly as organized as we were 10 days ago, two weeks ago. That starts with the right intensity, the right concentration, and when we get back to that we’ll win. In this league, there’s no easy games. You’re going to win the games you deserve to win, and we have two days to get back to that level.”
Returning to the same level of intensity and purpose of play that they had in November is imperative for the Magic. They found a way that they can play and have success with, but if they’re unable to return to that, and fast, things will continue to slip.
While the struggles on the offensive end have been the most predominant, they’ve also seen their play go down on the defensive side as well.
During Wednesday nights lopsided loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Magic gave up their highest field goal percentage ever in a game at 64.8 percent. On Sunday night, the Magic blew multiple assignments early in the third quarter, putting an end to the momentum they had begun to build late in the second quarter.
“The beginning of the third quarter, I thought we were in a decent place,” said Clifford. “Down big early, late in the second quarter we get it down to a workable margin. We come right out the first play [and] blow a coverage. Tyler Johnson open three. Then we come down, blow a pick-and-roll coverage on a set we covered this morning, and covered again at halftime, leads to another three. All of a sudden it’s right back up to 15 again.”
That stretch in the third quarter ultimately doomed the Magic as the Heat, behind Johnson’s 20 in the quarter, pushed the lead to as many as 26.
If they continue to struggle with coverages, and shots don’t begin to fall again, it could turn ugly and fast. We’ve seen the team struggle to keep the energy level, especially on the defensive end, up when shots aren’t falling.
“It’s not just offensively in my opinion,” said Evan Fournier. “It’s the way we play overall. We have to get our shit together. We knew at some point in the season we were going to hit a wall. It happens to every team, every year. It’s really how you respond and how you fight. The most important thing right now is to stay together and not start pointing any fingers, making excuses and just fight. Stay together and keep believing in what we do every day.”
With three more games at home before they embark on their longest road trip of the season, the Magic need to find a way to get some of their swagger back so they can put a stop to this slide before it gets too far out of control.