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Close and not that far

Posted By Warren Shaw On Jan 14 2011 @ 8:37 pm In Orlando Magic | No Comments

After nearly setting a franchise record 10 straight wins the Magic have suffered two straight losses on the road. On Wednesday the team lost in OT to the Hornets 92-89. On the second night of a back to back on Thursday they fell to the Thunder 125-124. The Magic remain a good team still finding its way. Good but not elite. There are signs that indicate the team is moving in the right direction but there is still much work to do as evidenced by these close losses on the road.

Let’s start with the good over the last two games:
1. Despite a potent offensive attack the team is still ranked 6th in opponents points per game 94.1, and opponents fg% at 44.2.
2. Dwight Howard has been stellar and dominant. In the two losses he has averaged a herculean 34pts, 19rebs, and 2blks.
3. Jason Richardson is starting to come around averaging 20pts in his last two outings. Ryan Anderson is surging and challenging Brandon Bass for a starting position. His rebounding has been somewhat surprising while he continues to space the floor.
4. The team remains steadfast in its ability to come back from large deficits and has complete confidence in each other no matter what the score and how much time is left on the clock.
5.The emergence of multiple late shot takers continues to bolster the offensive attack. Richardson has joined the party giving Orlando another fearless option down the stretch.

The bad is a mixed bag of things easily correctable and deficiencies that will require great attention:
1. Dwight Howard is not going to be a great free throw shooter. This will continue to limit the team’s ability to throw him the ball down low during close games. He missed two key free throws in OT against the Hornets that could have tied or given the Magic the lead had he made both with the Magic down 89-90. His comments after the game were a little concerning “You can’t just look at it as the free throws lost the game,” Howard said. “There were a lot of plays down the stretch that we didn’t make. We didn’t play as hard as we’re supposed to play and they got easy buckets….There was a lot of mistakes that we made to put us in that position.” As if Howard didn’t believe his own words he promptly went out and hit 17-20 free throws the next night in Oklahoma as if to say you won’t blame me again.
2. The amount of 3′s being hoisted up will eventually become an issue. The Magic have been hot and made 26-59 in the two game loosing streak. That type of pace is hard to maintain even with the great offensive talent and depth on the team.
3. Just last week it looked as if Hedo Turkgolu was becoming the clear 2nd option behind Howard. Suddenly he can’t find his shot (4-19 in the two losses) but is bringing the ball up the court almost as regularly as Jameer Nelson. Who is going to consistently answer the call behind Howard on a nightly basis?
4. Brandon Bass needs to attack the basket regularly. Even when Howard is in the game, the two are rarely on the same side of the floor. If Bass attacks he is a good enough free throw shooter to make defenses pay if they foul him. The last thing Orlando needs is more jump shooters.
5. The play at the point guard position remains inconsistent. Nelson, and Gilbert Arenas have yet to find a happy median where they both produce. Arenas has been awful at times and one has to wonder if trouble is brewing. Van Gundy proclaimed that Arenas needed to play 30-32 minutes a night when he was first acquired. Arenas played 33 minutes combined in the last two games (14 & 19 minutes respectively). Van Gundy stated this in regards to Arenas “He really wasn’t playing the point very much in Washington, so now he’s back playing point, which is the toughest place to play when you go to a new team to begin with. Gilbert’s adjustments and challenges have been tough.” How will playing him limited minutes solve the problem? This is the most concerning of all the situations surrounding the team simply because of Arenas’s unpredictable nature. Van Gundy shouldn’t feel bullied into playing Arenas but he can’t make statements like he is going to play 30-32 minutes one day and then play him 14 the next.

It should be noted that these two losses came against quality Western Conference opponents who are in the thick of the playoff race. These losses don’t mean the Magic suddenly need to blow up their team again, but as with any game(s) should provide learning points on where improvement is needed. The woeful Minnesota Timberwolves are up next on Saturday and they should help the Magic right the ship of this brief skid.

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