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The Orlando Magic can’t afford to be this bad

With just one win from their last twelve starts, the Magic must figure out how to turn things around before losing badly becomes a harmful habit

Orlando Magic v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic are a bad basketball team.

With a record of just 5-20 and currently looking up in the standings at … well, everyone, it’s not exactly a bold proclamation to make. The Magic have sunk all the way to the bottom of the league, and the broad stroke facts make for some grim reading. At this moment in time the Magic:

  • Have secured the fewest wins
  • Have suffered the most losses
  • Are sporting the fourth worst differential
  • Rank 27th by offensive rating
  • Rank 27th by defensive rating
  • Concede the highest two-point field goal percentage in the league
  • Attempt less three-pointers than all bar five teams
  • Give up more three-point attempts than all bar three teams
  • Turn the ball over with the second greatest frequency
  • Are bottom third league-wide in forcing opponent turnovers

And, as is seemingly tradition, or an old town charter, or something:

  • Have been subject to the greatest number of man games lost (again)
  • Have not been subject to the greatest number of win shares lost to unavailability (again)

As can be seen, the overall picture is not a pretty one. The Magic appear to have lost whatever directional sense they opened the season with, the lingering sheen of any early optimism now basically fully dissipated. They are, as previously mentioned and painfully laid out above, a bad basketball team.

And, really, the Magic can’t afford to be this bad.

Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Even as they stumbled to a 1-7 record to open the season, the general sentiment regarding the Magic wasn’t all that pessimistic. They were young, missing a handful of rotation players, and facing a road heavy schedule. Plus they were largely able to remain competitive despite those hurdles, racking up plenty of clutch minutes and meaningful sequences as the contests mostly stayed tight through even the fourth quarter. It felt like the team wasn’t all that far from turning a corner. Sure enough, a two-week stretch followed during which the Magic played .500 basketball, with wins over Western Conference heavyweights Golden State, Phoenix and Dallas punctuating the uptick in performance. All in Central Florida seemed okay.

And then it fell apart.

In the thirteen games since the Magic have just one win, a stretch of futility that has almost entirely unknotted whatever good was forged in the season’s early going. Previous strengths have vanished, bad habits have formed, and an alarming aimlessness in all facets of the game has been allowed to first pervade and then fester in the team’s general play.

Zeroing in on a few key details from the last dozen games is an illuminating process.

Hornets -7 -2 19 14 35.0
Timberwolves -18 +7 27 8 18.6
Bulls +1 -6 4 13 27.1
Pacers -1 -9 10 12 28.6
Pacers -21 -10 25 12 31.6
76ers -8 -10 10 13 33.3
76ers -30 -6 33 6 24.0
Nets -7 -10 11 8 23.5
Hawks -17 -4 25 14 34.1
Cavaliers -11 -11 20 5 14.7
Raptors -13 -5 33 12 33.3
Bucks -7 -5 19 7 15.9

What takeaways might one come away with from this set of numbers? Well, how about the fact that:

  • Across the better part of the last month, the Magic have played in only four games during which they haven’t faced a deficit of at least 19 points. Disregard the frequently closer final margins, many of which have been arrived at via meaningless late game sequences during which the opponent had already effectively clocked off. The Magic are getting blown out in a way that simply wasn’t happening in the early going.
  • According to the NBA’s database, Orlando has played just 13 total clutch minutes in the last dozen contests (by comparison, they accumulated 31 in the season’s first thirteen games).
  • The team’s disastrous work on the defensive glass has turned a previous strength – a 73.7% defensive rebounding rate through the first thirteen games, 7th best league-wide – into a noticeable weakness – 70.3% defensive rebounding rate through the last twelve, 9th worst league wide.
  • The Magic are getting spanked in third quarters by an average of almost six points, including four occasions on which the beatdown blew out to double figures (and two others that probably should have as well). They’re getting waxed specifically in the period during which adjustments are frequently implemented and good teams make their move.

These observations obviously aren’t an absolute account of the recent losing streak. But they do emphasize much of what has been apparent via the eye test – both effort and execution has become a problem for the Magic.

Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Orlando is undeniably in the midst of an unforgiving stretch of the schedule, with sixteen straight games against genuine playoff hopefuls that are currently either .500 or better. It’s also true that they’re missing some essential players, particularly at the defensive end of the floor – the combined absences of Wendell Carter Jr., Jalen Suggs, and Gary Harris have been keenly felt.

Still, those factors do not forgive the deflating lack of competitiveness that is currently all-too-often evident in the on-court product. The Magic haven’t just been undone by an unavoidable talent deficit during this stretch; they’re frequently getting out-thought and out-hustled, a disastrous combination.

In fact, Orlando’s performance in at least a third of these recent games should probably be described as embarrassing, even after accounting for the individual context of each contest. The Magic were listless in the second showdown against the Pacers. They got punked by Philadelphia’s B-listers. They were down right putrid in the first and third quarters in Toronto.

To be fair, the team isn’t always as disastrous as they were in those specific moments. They lost a heartbreaker to the Pacers the first time round. They made the Nets sweat even as Kevin Durant was going off. They also almost reeled the Bucks in on Monday.

However, the collective nature of the losses is becoming increasingly worrying as things roll on. With more than a quarter of the season now in the record books, no team should still need to address factors such as energy, effort and expectations, or the general game plan at either end of the floor. Yet, for the Magic, such concerns frequently loom over proceedings.

Orlando’s offense has seemingly devolved into a ‘my turn, your turn’ proposition, with minimal ball movement and sequences defined by an individual dribbling the air out of the ball until they eventually go it on their own. The team’s defense is problematic everywhere, with the Magic offering scant resistance in the painted area while also getting picked apart with ease on the perimeter. And don’t forget the seemingly collective allergy to defensive rebounds!

This Magic outfit was never going to be a genuine play-in contender, let alone the more wistful projections of a precocious postseason participant. But they shouldn’t be worse than they were last season. By the team’s own admission this was a campaign about ‘leveling up’, with an expectation of competitive showings that would facilitate genuine development for a youthful roster.

During the season’s opening stretch, a basketball fan in Central Florida didn’t have to squint all that hard to see the outline of a team that was steadily trending in the right direction. Recently, however, something has been absent from the equation. At this moment in time the Magic don’t appear to be a team figuring out what it takes to win in this league. Instead, they have the look of a side that has let the rope slip almost entirely.

Dealing with adversity is a part of every NBA campaign, so the injuries and interruption – while real for the Magic this season – don’t excuse the often calamitous decline in the team’s recent play. Apathetic effort and listless losses simply cannot be allowed to seep their way into the cultural fabric of this team; that’s a sure-fire way to prolong a rebuild interminably.

We know that Orlando wants to be a good basketball team. But the play of the last few weeks is something that, if not adequately addressed, will eventually establish a disconcerting precedent — and a rotten foundation.

For that reason, the Magic really can’t afford to remain this bad.