Cohen Courtside: Magic vs. Pacers (1/29/12)



By Josh Cohen
January 29, 2012


In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.

MAGIC SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS


ORLANDO -- This was not what the doctor prescribed.

Whether it’s a case of extreme fatigue, a symptom of an enduring distraction or an indicator of a long-term problem, no medicine yet has cured the ailment.

After last week’s Boston Massacre, epic collapse and Friday burnout, Sunday’s performance against Indiana was not the kind of effort that could infuse some much-needed confidence back into their system.

Aside from a second-quarter jolt that gave Orlando the lead at halftime, this generally lopsided affair mostly featured an inability to defend Indiana’s balanced attack and a failure to protect the ball (19 turnovers).

Much of Orlando’s current crisis seems just as much mental as it is physical. Part of the Magic’s repertoire is relying on the outside shot to fall and when it does, Orlando looks unassailable (hence, the Magic’s furious second-quarter rally against the Pacers that overturned an early double-digit deficit).

On the other hand, when the perimeter play crashes, it’s a grave cycle backwards.

Meager free throw shooting is also feeding into the quandary. As a team, the Magic shot 13-of-29 from the stripe (45 percent) and Dwight Howard missed 11 of his 15 attempts.

"I wish I could pinpoint one thing," J.J. Redick said. "I wish there was an algebraic equation to have a final answer."

So, what now?

It’s exactly what the Magic feared during training camp. If performance started to suffer and the distractions regarding Howard’s future lingered, much would have to be evaluated.

Since it’s only Jan. 29 and there are still about 45 days left until the trade deadline, there is no reason for a flashing red light to appear on the panic meter.

It remains possible, rather, that the Magic can restore their self-reliance and reform into a championship contender.

However, if there is no improvement over the next few weeks and pressure continues to mount, President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith will have some big decisions to make.

There are several questions that must be raised.

For one, are the Magic as presently constructed good enough if playing their best basketball to compete for a title?

Second, if you aren’t convinced they are but believe Howard can be persuaded to stay in Orlando long term, is there a deal that could be made to transform the team into an immediate favorite to win the championship?

Third, if a move is not imminent and there is a growing belief the missing piece is unavailable; trading Dwight may have to come to culmination.

For now, however, the ambition of the Magic should be to remain focused and not let the national media and other critics interfere.

It won’t be easy, but if Orlando is serious about staying level with the other elite teams in the NBA, it’s an obstacle they must overcome.


MORE THOUGHTS


  • Jameer Nelson missed Sunday’s game with concussion-like symptoms. Chris Duhon, though, filled in nicely with 14 points and five assists.

    With Nelson struggling, nonetheless, are the Magic actively trying to upgrade that position?

  • I've never really attributed defensive play to confidence; that's more to commitment and effort and discipline and things like that," Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "If you're going to give up 56 points in the paint, 16 second-chance points and 19 fast-break points, that's not confidence."

  • Very noticeable over the last several games, Jason Richardson seems to flourish in first quarters but steadily declines as games move forward. J-Rich came out with so much energy and finished with 13 points, but it remains uncertain why he isn’t able to finish games with that same tenacity.

  • The Pacers are a very good team. In fact, and this is a very bold assessment, but I think they are better than the Bulls in the Central Division. They have every position figured out and while they don’t have a true superstar, they have a plethora of B-level players that is hard to match up with.

    "We have a scary team," said George Hill, who was acquired by the Pacers from the Spurs last June. "We want to be very intimidating."


Do you think the uncertainty regarding Dwight Howard's future is affecting the team's play?
Do you think the uncertainty regarding Dwight Howard's future is affecting the team's play?
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