With the working week winding to an end, let’s check the pulse of all things pinstriped.
Who won the week that was?
Although it’s difficult to find anyone who really stood out in a winless week punctuated by some absolute shellackings, the nod here is going to Mychal Mulder. He started the week understandably out of the rotation, but understandably finished it as a valuable contributor playing over 20 minutes a night. His injection into the first Milwaukee-inflicted rout turned the contest on its head, while in the return contest against the Bucks he was the only starter to make an outside jumper. He seemed to put forward a genuine case for minutes at the expense of some of his more veteran teammates.
Mulder is a limited gunner — he doesn’t really pass the ball, only collects rebounds that fall into his lap, and he’s yet to record a single block or steal in almost 80 minutes of court time this season — but at the very least he was able to inject a dose of bounce into a Magic team that appeared increasingly moribund as the week wound on. Sometimes you’ve got to take the small wins.
The upcoming slate
This week’s schedule: vs Bulls (tonight); at Cavaliers (Sat); at 76ers (Mon); vs Nuggets (Wed)
Vooch is back, both in uniform for the Bulls after a bout of illness and in the city of Orlando for what will feel like a bittersweet homecoming. The sight of him popping threes and playmaking from the high post will at first be a reminder of the relative success in the Magic’s recent past, while at the same time serving to punctuate the depth of the current troubles. Even on a team with obvious limitations Vucevic was often enough to give the side a puncher’s chance in any given contest; these days, everything basically has to break right for the Magic to collect a win.
Elsewhere, the surprising-but-now-sliding Cavaliers represent another possible road win, while tilts with the 76ers and Nuggets figure to be long shots — doubly so if Cole Anthony remains sidelined. It’s a weekly schedule that serves as another reminder of Orlando’s firmly cemented status as an underdog this season.
The crystal ball says …
Let’s channel the optimism of the Thanksgiving break and say that Cole’s return propels the Magic to a victory over a Cleveland outfit missing their star rookie. 1-3 on the week.
The next week is an important one for …
Jamahl Mosley. The Magic have ten losses already by 12 or more points, including four by 20+. They’ve been down double-digits in all bar three contests, and very few of their games have featured genuinely meaningful fourth quarter possessions. In fact, according to NBA tracking data, which classifies the clutch as the final five minutes of a game in which the margin is no more than five points, Orlando has been involved in just 17 clutch minutes across 7 games all season long, the third-fewest league wide.
Now, Mosley obviously isn’t the one on the floor directly responsible for the box score totals. But the Magic do need him to find ways to put them in a more competitive position, whether that’s with improved rotations and play-calling, tough calls in regards to the line up, or more effective game management. There are obvious performance review quibbles relative to each of those factors evident across the season’s opening month, and improvement in each would help a young Orlando side more easily keep in touch with their opponents.
With Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz still missing, and Cole Anthony and Terrence Ross now ailing, it’s undoubtedly a tough task. However, it’s also irrefutably essential that the Magic find a way to make their games more meaningful lest this season spiral into something truly unproductive. That change can be facilitated by the decision made from behind the clipboard.
A figure for thought
.517 — the combined winning percentage of all Magic opponents still to come. This is the second most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the league.