Cohen Courtside: Magic at 76ers (1/30/12)



By Josh Cohen
January 30, 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.

THE PAINFUL SLIDE CONTINUES


It’s starting to feel a lot like Groundhog Day.

You wake up each morning and hope it’s a brand new day with brand new results, but like it was for Phil Connors, the same experiences and dilemmas continue to emerge.

In the last week, the Orlando Magic have absorbed epic scoring droughts, an historical collapse and implausible lopsided defeats.

A trip to Philadelphia didn’t solve the puzzle as the Magic, despite a brave finish and a magnificent effort by Ryan Anderson, were discombobulated for the first 42 minutes. From dreary outside shooting to momentum-smashing free throw misses to detrimental turnovers, Orlando’s gas tank appeared on empty.

It’s gotten so outlandish that Elton Brand rejected even Dwight Howard, the king of all shot blocking, on two consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter.

It feels like an eternity ago, but in actuality it was just 10 days ago when the Magic crushed the Lakers and won 11 of their first 15 games. They had swept a three-game West Coast road adventure, earned a gallant comeback victory in New York and looked like a valid powerhouse in the Eastern Conference.

It would be easy and probably craven to blame either the rigorous schedule or injuries for this recent relapse considering every team is dealing with the same grueling itinerary.

While there is indisputable progression from guys like Anderson, who grabbed 20 rebounds on Monday, and J.J. Redick, who is more versatile than ever, there seems to be noticeable regression in Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and, despite both not playing in Philadelphia, Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson.

It’s extremely mysterious, especially for Howard, whose field goal and free throw percentages continue to decline at a rapid rate, why there has been such a spiral in performance from Orlando’s main core.

It feels like yesterday when Nelson, who may be out for the next week with concussion-like symptoms, was one of the premier scoring point guards in the league and sometimes single-handedly catapulted the Magic to big wins.

It feels like yesterday when J-Rich, who rested his sore knee on Monday, was one of the elite 3-point shooters and averaged around 20 points per game.

It feels like yesterday when Turkoglu was the catalyst to the Magic’s storied NBA Finals run in 2009.

Howard’s relentless power attack has not been supplemented by the finesse game that he started to develop last season.

And it’s without question that his 46 percent foul shooting is far more mental than it is mechanics. If you have ever seen Dwight practice at the stripe before the stage lights go on, you will notice he is virtually automatic.

It’s ambiguous, for sure, but the underlining question remains, is Howard’s uncertain future having an impact on the team’s performance? Or, on the other hand, is Orlando’s style of play not congruent with such a backbreaking schedule.

"Confidence is always a thing," Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "When you are not playing well, your confidence goes down. I love people that think you reach in a barrel and find confidence. Confidence comes with success for any of this, doing anything."

Unlike most seasons when practices are frequent and rest time is abundant, in this truncated campaign, those two elements are far and few between.

Fortunately for the Magic, there are still 45 games remaining in the regular season, which is plenty of time to restore self-reliance and deepened chemistry.

Could Orlando’s unremitting push in the final three minutes in Philly when it closed a 19-point gap to a respectable final five-point defeat be the momentum-shift the Magic so desperately need? That may be revealed on Wednesday when they host the Wizards.

Howard, meanwhile, assured the media in the visiting locker room after Monday's loss that this is just a temporary glitch.

"We are going to be alright. Listen, listen, every team, every player, every person goes through what we are going through right now. We are not going to hang our heads. We are not going to fight with each other. We are going to stay together, and we are going to weather the storm. That’s it. We have a great basketball team. We are just going through a rough stretch. That’s it. No need to point the finger. We are not going to panic. We are going to be fine," Howard said.

Rumors will continue to swirl and uncertainty will inevitably circle the Magic, but like it is for any team with championship aspirations, it’s an impediment that must be tackled before it reaches the end zone.

"You push through it, and you have a good game and then you get it back," Van Gundy said. "There is no easy way. You have to tough it out. We struggle confidence-wise. Coaches struggle confidence-wise. You push through it and keep going at it, and eventually things work out."

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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