Denton: Magic Set For Showdown With Lakers

By John Denton
February 13, 2011


ORLANDO – Perplexed and frustrated with the Orlando Magic’s failings of late against winning teams, head coach Stan Van Gundy came to practice on Saturday armed with a bevy of statistics for his team.

And he also had plenty of hope that his Magic are much closer to turning the corner than some might think – even with the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers dead ahead on Sunday at Amway Center.

When the Magic lost 99-93 to the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night it was their eighth consecutive loss to a team with a winning record. Like in many of the losses, Orlando trailed by just one basket in the final seconds, but kicked the ball away with a bad turnover. It’s a scene that has played out repeatedly of late, resulting in the Magic coming up just short against the NBA’s best teams.

Van Gundy was furious at the time of the last-minute meltdown, but chose a dramatically more glass-half-full approach the day after in his speech to the Magic. Van Gundy said there are ``mitigating circumstances’’ behind the Magic’s late-game struggles of late – such as being without one of the regular-rotation players in five of the last eight games against elite foes -- and he is confident they can turn it around starting Sunday against the Lakers.

``I think that we have to understand how close we are. I know that a lot of people can look at us and see we’re not beating those people, I can get frustrated, fans can and our players can, too. But other than that last game up in Boston, we’ve had a chance to win in the closing minute of every one of those games,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Six of those games have been on the road. We have shot the ball absurdly. The last five games (against winning teams) we’ve shot 25 percent from 3. With all of that said, we’re right there with a chance to win in most of those games.

``The first thing that I want our players to understand is that we’re not a long way away and we’re not a bad team,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``There has to be a sense of hope and optimism. There has to be an understanding of why we’re not getting over the top.’’

No one would put the Magic (34-21) over the top more than one against the Lakers (38-15), who come into Orlando having won in Boston on Thursday and in New York on Friday. The Lakers seem out of their mid-season doldrums and are playing some of their best basketball of the season. That’s why potentially beating the Lakers in a nationally televised game would be sweeter than ever, Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu said.

``Stan made a good point to the team that we really have to start playing better to become the basketball team that we want to be,’’ Turkoglu said. ``We’re not playing our best basketball now, but a game against the Lakers will be a challenge to see ourselves against a really good team and what we need to do to beat teams like that. We just have to come with a lot of focus and clean up some of our mistakes.’’

The Magic hope to get power forward Brandon Bass back on Sunday to combat the Lakers’ big frontline of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Bass has been out almost two weeks after stepping on the foot of Memphis’ power forward Zach Randolph and severely spraining his ankle. Bass wasn’t expected back until after next week’s NBA All-Star break, but twice-a-day rehabilitation sessions allowed him to get back on the floor for Sunday’s game. It is unsure whether or not he’ll return to the starting lineup, but Bass expects to play.

``That’s the plan, I want to play. When Stan calls my name, I’ll be ready,’’ Bass said. ``I felt pretty good (in Saturday’s practice). Every day I’m making progress and getting better and better, and I think I’ll be ready. It’s been tough sitting out, especially when we’ve struggled. We were playing pretty good up until last night and that was tough to watch.’’

As tough as it was to watch again, Van Gundy showed his team several points from Friday’s loss to New Orleans. Van Gundy showed his team that it defended well enough down the stretch, holding the Hornets to 1 of 12 shooting. But that work was undone by the Magic’s five turnovers in the final six minutes of the game.

Van Gundy reeled off one statistic after another when addressing his team, telling the Magic players that there have been four common themes in the team losing the last eight games against winning squads. The Magic last beat a winning team on Jan. 8, and that defeat of Dallas came with Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler out of action.

Van Gundy said there are areas where the Magic can clean up flaws and be a good team against the elite again real soon.

``We made four points today: one, we’re always playing out of a hole. We haven’t led going into the fourth quarter in any of the eight games, we’ve been tied twice and five of those games we’ve been down nine points or more,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Number two, our defense hasn’t been good enough. Four of those eight teams have shot over 50 percent. If you are going to beat teams of that caliber, we have to defend better.

``We didn’t belabor the shooting, but my point is that when you have good shooters like we do and you’re shooting as poorly as we are you have to question whether we’re executing well enough and having the patience needed to get the shots that we can,’’ he continued. ``And we have not been good closing out games. … To me there should be a sense of optimism because this stuff we can get turned around. It’s not like we’re getting blown out by 30, we don’t have a chance and our talent isn’t good enough. That’s a bunch of (stuff) right there. We can beat anybody in this league, but we have to play better.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.