Faced with a daunting slate of Western Conference opponents on the recent five-game road trip, the Orlando Magic emerged a fairly respectable 2-3. However, the Magic arguably should have done better, as they led by double-digits in losses to both the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trailblazers.
With head coach Steve Clifford’s ever-resounding “no moral victories” stance playing in our heads, we ask the team from our very own Orlando Pinstriped Post for their evaluations of the Magic’s performance out West.
Recap of the Magic’s West Coast trip:— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) December 1, 2018
vs. Nuggets, blowout loss
vs. Lakers, impressive win
vs. Warriors, blown 18-point lead
vs. Blazers, lost but led by 11
vs. Suns, ugly win but a win
Scale of 1 to 10, how successful was this trip? I give it a 7
Cory Hutson (@CoryHutson):
Based mainly on expectations, I’d give the Magic a B- for the West Coast trip. Given the teams they played against, a 2-3 record sounds about right. They get bonus points for hanging close with the Warriors and Blazers, and there’s always extra credit for beating the Lakers regardless of the circumstances or how good either team is. They lose points for giving up big leads in those close losses, and they put up maybe the worst-looking 14-point win you’re gonna see against Phoenix.
Biggest question moving forward: Can they replicate this effort against weaker Eastern Conference opposition? Or will they drop games against teams like the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls?
Zach Oliver (@ZachOliverNBA):
I think there’s a few positives you can take from this trip. First, they stayed afloat. Yes, going 2-3 is less than ideal for most stretches, but I thought overall, they played pretty good basketball. They’re a couple of bounces of the ball from going 4-1, so I’d say, overall, it was a successful road trip.
As we’ve seen in the past, the first west coast trip has a tendency to derail the team, and I think this time it’s just going to carry more momentum for them. Concern wise, the blowout against Denver is worrisome, still, as is their inability to play with a big lead.
I asked Steve Clifford if learning to play with a big lead was the next step in the teams development, and he quickly shot it down, saying that in the league these days, no lead is safe, especially with multiple minutes remaining. I do think that is something that needs to be monitored, though, because we’ve seen it happen far too often already this season. The blowout to start the trip worries me still because of the fact it’s happened to them multiple times.
Yes, they’ve responded well every time thus far, but if it keeps happening, will they continue to respond that well? I’m not so sure.
Andre Rodriguez (@oandrerodriguez):
The Magic are only 23 games into the season, but their trip to the West Coast showed signs that this season might not take an unfortunate twist any time soon. Granted they got off to a bumpy start with a blow out loss to the Denver Nuggets. They also only won two of the five games on the trip.
Rebounding still seems to be an issue with the Magic. Nikola Vucevic can’t continue pulling the load on the glass, although Aaron Gordon has been a tremendously better rebounder this season. Evan Fournier continues to struggle with consistency when it comes to shooting. Terrence Ross has been the best player, outside of Vucevic, during the stretch. I know the common saying “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, but if Fournier continues to provide barely double-digit points on more than 30 minutes of playing time, why not put the more explosive, versatile and hot hand of Ross into the lineup for one game? But there were positives for the Magic during their road trip to the west too:
- Following a win against the Lakers and a close loss to the Raptors, the Magic proved they can hang (for now) with some of the highest scoring and best teams in the NBA by beating the Lakers again, and also play neck and neck with the Warriors and Trailblazers — despite ultimately losing to them both.-
- And they capped the trip off by showing they can beat, and will beat, the teams they’re supposed to, such as the four win Phoenix Suns.-
- But as always, sometimes 23 games is still too little to spot signs of a fluke, so fingers crossed Magic fans.
Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis):
It seems peculiar as a Magic fan to dismiss positive performance against net negative result, but that is the position head coach Steve Clifford has put us in. The Orlando Magic thoroughly outplayed the reigning two-time champs (albeit without Steph Curry and Draymond Green), until Aaron Gordon was forced to exit with back stiffness. Paired against Isaac, Durant would score 38 of his 49 in the second half. Similarly, the Magic led by 11 to the Portland Trailblazers in the third quarter before ultimately falling short on Lillard’s game-sealing free throws with 32.9 seconds to play.
The Magic did ‘take’ one from the Los Angeles Lakers, but these others are games the Magic should win, and we have to stop forgiving them for playing above expectation. The Magic have every bit the talent, resolve and coaching to safely secure a playoff spot in an underwhelming eastern conference where the Pacers and Celtics both sit just two wins ahead. After all, the Blazers have lost five of their past six (Magic being the lone victory), and Warriors just three of their past eight.
The Magic have earned our trust through the first quarter of the season. Per Clifford’s request, it’s time to expect more.
Some might say it’s a loser’s mentality to consider the Magic’s 2-3 West Coast trip a success. But I’ll say loud and proud that it was indeed a success. For previous Magic teams, this trip would have been the impetus for the downfall of their promising start. After getting blown out in Denver, they wouldn’t have bounced back for a win in Los Angeles. After blowing a big lead against the Warriors (and Blazers), the Magic would have allowed the game to spiral into a romp rather than give themselves the opportunity to win in the closing minutes. After disheartening losses against the league’s elite, they would have fell into the trap that was the Suns game and flew home disappointed. This Magic team seems different. They’re showing they can compete with the elite, and that’s progress.
Of course, there still are clear concerns (rebounding, Fournier, and sustaining success with the league’s seventh worst offensive rating). The most alarming is how the blown lead has become a bad habit for the Magic. If they’re good enough to build a lead, they’re good enough to protect it. They must learn how to close out games. To do that though, I think they need a go-to scorer who can create his own shot, attack the basket and get to the line when the suddenly stagnant Magic need to stop the bleeding.
Aaron Goldstone (@AaronGoldstone):
I think the Magic can come away content picking up two games over their five-game road trip. I realize Clifford is drilling into the team’s overall mentality that “moral victories” will not be entertained this season, but the Magic did nothing over their trip to interrupt the progress they’re making this year.
I believe they were only favored to win the Phoenix game, so snagging a game in Los Angeles (especially after they started slowly in that contest) is a positive. They blew a lead in Golden State against the Warriors, who were playing without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. They also blew a double-digit lead in Portland. Those were winnable games where the Magic couldn’t finish the job down the stretch, I get that. But this is the NBA, teams go on runs. That is to be expected; in both of those games (Portland and Golden State), the opposing team still had the best player in that game (Durant, Lillard). Sure, no moral victories, but I was pleased Orlando competed in every game (outside of the Denver game).
The Magic have another big one against the Heat on Tuesday. If they pull out that game, they will briefly return to Amway 3-3 over the course of the six games. If you would’ve told me .500 for the trip before the Magic set out for Denver, I certainly would have taken it. There will be pockets as the season goes on where the schedule/competition lets up a bit.
Will Ogburn (@GeauxSoHard):
Each of the Magic’s five games during their past road trip read like a totally different story, but if there was one theme, it was progress.
On one hand, their opening game of that stretch was an embarrassingly bad loss to the Nuggets in which the Magic could muster only 87 points. There is no excuse for that. Without it, this would be in the B to B+ range. However, if Magic fans would’ve put the five teams from the road trip (DEN, LAL, GSW, POR, PHX) on a board, it would’ve been reasonable to say their team was better than only the Suns based on past history.
The Magic were in every game on this road trip, even when the odds, the basketball gods, and the laws of physics suggested that they shouldn’t be. This trip proved that Orlando has potentially turned a corner from the collection of wet napkins that used to fold up when times got tough, to a collection of scrappy players that play for each other when hope seems lost.
Though an injury to Aaron Gordon is hardly a positive, his absence showed that the Magic have created the depth they lacked last season through health, roster moves, and player development. Although moral victories are often to be avoided by Steve Clifford, going wire-to-wire against three of the West’s best squads in their own buildings will be enough for me until the Magic consider themselves among the league’s elite again one day.