Denton: Magic Looking to be More Consistent

By John Denton
March 29, 2012

ORLANDO – Almost to a man, the Orlando Magic’s players and coaching staff left New York’s Madison Square Garden Wednesday night dazed and somewhat confused about a trend that just doesn’t seem to add up.

How can a Magic team with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference (32-19) and the fifth-most wins in the NBA suffer some of the most head-scratching losses at times? How can the Magic both beat elite teams such as Miami (twice), Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers and lose to dregs such as Charlotte, New Orleans and Detroit? How can the Magic put up 102 points and hit 17 3-pointers one night against Miami and then fail to break 60 points in two other games? And most recently, how can the Magic be sailing along and up eight points against the New York Knicks only to look up several minutes later and be trailing by a staggering 39 points?

For whatever reason, the Magic have had wilder swings in this lockout-shorted season than troubled actress Lindsay Lohan. When they are good, they are usually really good and give credence to belief that they can contend for a title. But when they struggle, they are 56-point bad against the Celtics, 59-point bad against the Bulls and once again shockingly bad in Wednesday’s 24-point loss against the Knicks.

It’s enough to drive even those closest to the process with the Magic somewhat crazy with the thrilling highs and the stomach-punch lows.

``Nothing with this team surprises me,’’ scoffed J.J. Redick said Wednesday night following the loss to the Knicks. ``Really, it’s the same old story for us in some of these losses.’’

Added Chris Duhon: ``(The lopsided losses) have happened to us a few times now. We’ve really got to find a way to fix it because we’re too good of a team to keep getting embarrassed like this.’’

Much like kiss-and-make-up couples, the Magic have shown an incredible resilience this season and have displayed an ability to respond to poor outings. Incredibly, some of their best wins have come on the heels of their worst losses. Now, after slogging through Wednesday’s game in New York, the Magic hope to rebound in a big way Friday night at the Amway Center against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.

``We have to become a team that starts developing better habits in games now before the playoffs start,’’ said Jameer Nelson, Orlando’s lone bright spot on Wednesday with 18 points. ``We know that we have enough talent in our locker room to win, but it’s about us going out every night and playing the right way.’’

It’s been an up-and-down ride from the very start for the Magic. In the preseason opener against the Heat, the Magic lost by 33 points only to win by four points against the Heat three nights later in an exhibition. Similarly, they lost the regular-season opener to Oklahoma City and then reeled off four consecutive wins.

Orlando got really rolling in the middle of January, winning five straight games at one point and ended a run of six wins in seven games with a defeat of the Lakers.

However, then came a shocking 87-56 defeat in Boston where the Magic set the all-time franchise low for points scored. And just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse than that, Orlando blew a 27-point lead at home three days later against the same Celtics team without Ray Allen or Rajon Rondo.

A troubling four-game losing streak in late January seemed to make it a season on the brink, but Orlando again responded with a rebirth. The best performance of the season – the 102-89 defeat of Miami with the 17 3-pointers – capped a run of four wins in five games and gave Magic fans dreams of championship contention.

Maybe no stretch defines the bizarre nature of this team more than the two games against the Bulls on March 8 and 19. Playing with a sense of urgency after losing to lowly Charlotte, Orlando went into Chicago and whipped the Bulls behind Dwight Howard’s 29 points and 18 rebounds. But 11 nights later, logic was once again flipped upside down as the Magic mustered just 59 points in a 26-point loss to a Bulls team without MVP Derrick Rose.

The consistent inconsistencies have driven head coach Stan Van Gundy somewhat batty during the season. Van Gundy’s intensity usually burns at one temperature, and to him it doesn’t matter whether the Magic are playing the best team in the league or the worst. Admittedly, he said he can’t get a handle on how a team can be so good one night and so poor the next.

``What is shocking to me is a team that is playing over .600 (winning percentage) basketball can get absolutely rocked as many times as we have been – Boston, New Orleans, Chicago and tonight. That’s what’s mind-boggling to me,’’ Van Gundy said following Wednesday’s loss. ``It will happen some if you are a bad team. But to be a .600 team and get crushed like that as many times as we have, that’s shocking.’’

The Magic are quick to point out that there are so simple X-and-O fixes they need to make to avoid what happened on Wednesday night from happening again. Smallish teams such as the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks give the Magic fits because they switch defensively on pick-and-pop plays, taking away Orlando’s 3-point shots. Redick said the Magic must run more pick plays with Howard because no player wants to switch onto the six-time all-star center as he rolls toward the rim.

Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis said the Magic’s offense grinds to a halt when it stops moving the ball effectively and getting good player movement. Because they Magic don’t have guards who can create looks at the end of the shot clock, they must rely on movement.

And then there’s the issue with turnovers. The Magic entered Wednesday 25th in the NBA in turnovers, but gave the ball away just six times in the first half against the Knicks. However, they came unglued just after halftime, turning the ball over 10 times in the third period alone.

Howard, who got just seven shot attempts and six free throw tries on Wednesday, said he spoke up in the locker room after Wednesday’s loss about the need ``to play the right way.’’ Do that, Howard said, and the Magic can beat any team in the league and make a long playoff run. But continue to be inconsistent with the effort and the on-court togetherness and it could spell doom in the postseason, Howard stressed.

``This should be frustrating for everybody. We just have to step up and play the right way,’’ Howard said. ``When we don’t (play the right way), we have games like this. ``It’s the same thing I’ve been telling the guys: Our effort has to be consistent,’’ Howard continued. ``If we want to win a championship, every guy has to buy in to playing the right way every night. If we don’t do that we’re going to be sitting at home early.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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