By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 4, 2013
Like the New Orleans Hornets, the Orlando Magic are in the midst of a rebuilding process, not long after trading a star player who had become synonymous with the franchise. For the Magic – who visit the Hornets on Monday night in an interconference matchup – Year 1 of the post-Dwight Howard era has been a painful experience. After a 12-13 start to 2012-13 that gave optimistic Orlando fans hope that the team could defy the skeptics and qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Magic have plummeted.
A Dec. 26 home loss to New Orleans dropped Orlando to 12-16 overall, part of a losing streak that would reach 10 games. Just prior to the NBA All-Star break, the Magic suffered through a separate 12-game skid. At one stage, Orlando had dropped a total of 28 of its 31 contests.
New Orleans’ season has been quite the opposite, with its best play coming in recent weeks. The Hornets were just 6-22 following their 97-94 triumph at Orlando on Dec. 26, but played roughly .500 basketball for much of January and February.
The recent New Orleans improvement has been spearheaded by excellent contributions from several frontcourt players, including No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis, who has run the floor and rebounded at a higher rate since the All-Star break. Davis is listed as day-to-day with a sprained left shoulder. Meanwhile, high-scoring forward Ryan Anderson and relentless center Jason Smith have been invaluable coming off the bench. In the backcourt, point guard Greivis Vasquez continues to make a strong case for being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Shooting guard Eric Gordon has not shot the ball well by his standards, but his impact on the team’s record in games he plays has been evident (NOLA went 11-11 over his first 22 appearances this season, but 9-28 in all other games).
Intriguing matchup: Shooting guard, Eric Gordon vs. Arron Afflalo
Orlando, which has been without several key players due to injury, has had to rely heavily on Afflalo, the club’s leading scorer. New Orleans has not needed Gordon to carry the offense to the same extent, partly due to the excellent season Anderson has enjoyed in his debut with the Hornets. Anderson and Gordon are averaging 16.7 and 16.6 points, respectively.
Just four years removed from reaching the 2009 NBA Finals, the Magic begin a new era in franchise history, following their trade of superstar center Dwight Howard to the Lakers last summer. With a 16-42 overall record in late February, Orlando was on pace for its poorest season in nearly a decade, when it went 21-61 during the 2003-04 campaign. It’s not necessarily a surprise that the Magic have struggled – some NBA analysts even predicted that they’d finish behind the Charlotte Bobcats in the Southeast Division (Charlotte set an ignominious NBA mark last season by going an all-time-worst 7-59). In fairness, Orlando entered 2012-13 with little margin for error in terms of injuries, but the Magic have sustained as many key ailments as any squad. LSU product Glen “Big Baby” Davis (broken left foot) is out for the season, while key cogs Jameer Nelson, Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu have each missed big chunks of the schedule.
Nelson is the only Orlando player who has played in an All-Star Game, but his 2012-13 season has been severely hampered by injury. The 6-foot point guard is having arguably the worst season of his nine-year pro career. In his absence, shooting guard Arron Afflalo is one of the Magic’s most effective players on both ends of the floor. The former Detroit and Denver player is averaging a career high in scoring.
On the rise
The biggest single positive development of Orlando’s season has been the emergence of center Nikola Vucevic. The 16th overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft by Philadelphia, Vucevic was an afterthought in the multi-team, megatrade that sent Howard to the Lakers, but the second-year pro has performed like a top-10 center. Vucevic compiled one of the most eye-popping stat lines of the entire 2012-13 season when he racked up 20 points and 29 rebounds vs. Miami on New Year’s Eve.
Though Orlando has one of the worst records in the NBA, it received a nice infusion of new talent recently when it traded valuable reserve guard J.J. Redick to Milwaukee. The deal yielded forward Tobias Harris (17.7 points per game in first three Magic appearances) and guards Beno Udrih and Doron Lamb. In addition, Harrington recently made his season debut after missing the first 56 games to injury.
On the sideline
Like the Hornets’ Monty Williams, first-year Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn has roots in the San Antonio Spurs organization. Vaughn, who spent 12 years in the NBA as a backup point guard, was hired by Orlando last summer at just 37 years of age.
Did you know?
Orlando’s streak of six consecutive playoff appearances will come to an end this spring. The Magic debuted as a franchise in 1989 and have reached the NBA Finals twice (1995, 2010), losing to Houston and the Lakers, respectively.
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