Times have changed in the land of Magic. Losers of 5 their last 6 the Magic have hit a rough stretch that all NBA teams go through at some point in the season. It all started with the flu/stomach virus that ravaged the team to begin the month. The team dressed the league minimum (8) for two straight games as Howard, Nelson, Pietrus, Anderson, Reddick all missed time. As players slowly recovered the team’s scheduled west coast trip couldn’t have come at a worse time especially with games in Portland, Utah and Denver. Three notoriously tough places to play for eastern conference opponents.
But is it time to panic? In short No!
To the team’s credit they are not making excuses for their poor play of late and that is what a championship contending team is supposed to do. “It’s a long season. We’re going to have months where we don’t play well. The more you talk about it, the more the frustration builds.” said Dwight Howard. To some that comment might seem dismissive but the reality of the situation is he knows how the NBA and more importantly how his team works. If your superstar is not worried then fans should rest easy. When you see Superman shoulder bump Van Gundy after a timeout a la Lebron James, then fans should worry. However Howard’s comments are somewhat easy for him to make as he has not been the problem other than missing two games because of the flu.
The team is not delirious and does realize that better and more consistent play is needed before that same frustration Howard mentioned starts to settle in. Coach Van Gundy gave his analysis. “All four games of the trip were the exact same – get off to a pretty good start, lead at end of the first quarter, close or ahead at halftime with high-scoring first halves and then our offense dies and the fact that we can’t guard anyone we end up getting our (butts) kicked.. We play no defense whatsoever and on this trip we were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. If that doesn’t change then we’re going to be a very bad basketball team.’’ ranted Van Gundy after last night’s 111-94 loss to Denver. Van Gundy is correct, defense has been the main culprit of Orlando’s woes. Since December 3 Orlando has slipped from 1st to 4th in opponents points per game and from 6th to 10th in opponents field goal percentage.
`We’re going to get in the gym and work and if we have to change people we will. We’ve got to go back to work and some attitudes in there need to change,’’ Van Gundy said. “We’re trying to just outshoot people and the fact that we’re shooting the ball horribly, that’s not a good way to go. … What I’m seeing on the court is that we don’t guard anybody and we don’t play hard enough. We don’t sustain our offensive energy and we don’t guard at all.’
Do you sense a theme here? The team’s defense and effort is in question and that does not bode well for anybody not named Dwight Howard. The only other starter who is completely safe is probably Jameer Nelson. Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, and Brandon Bass all have reason for worry although Bass is probably on the hottest seat as he was just inserted into the starting lineup on this west coast trip. The starting lineup for Saturday’s game will be interesting to see. I personally would love to see a lineup of Nelson, Carter, Richardson, Bass and Howard to start the game. The play of Rashard Lewis continues to be uninspiring and it appears a shakeup is needed for his contribution to improve. If nothing else moving Lewis to the bench for a game or two could send the proverbial message that everybody on the team needs to be held accountable.
The important thing to remember is the season is still young and elite teams do have slides. Take The Miami Heat who started off 9-8 and are now a 1.5 games in front of the Magic in the Southeast Division. The world champion Lakers lost 4 straight games earlier this season so the Magic can take solace in knowing these things happen to the best of teams. The times do not call for panic but for focus and discipline and maybe even a lineup change. Rashard Lewis I hope that means you! Coach Van Gundy will have a few days to cool off and review strategies with his staff. Look for the Magic to come out like world beaters on Saturday against the improving 76er’s.
About the Author
Written by Warren Shaw
I am an avid Basketball fan who has worked for the New York Knicks, Alonzo Mourning Charities and various other sports organizations. Having covered many NBA and various professional sporting events has given me the opportunity to provide insight with an unbiased but flavor driven view. I look forward to providing NBA content and interacting with knowledgeable fans and readers. Follow me on Twitter @shawsports or Email your questions to me at Warrenshaw@prosportsblogging.com