By Dan Savage Nov. 28, 2017
ORLANDO – If the NBA season is a marathon, then the Orlando Magic’s first-quarter stretch has been one vicious sprint.
In the month of November alone, Orlando was forced to head out on two treacherous four-game road trips, and now awaits home tilts against a star-studded Oklahoma City squad and the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Statistically, the Magic’s schedule has been the second toughest in the NBA based on a formula that accounts for opponent record, number of road games and quantity of back-to-backs.
When presented with that stat, Orlando Head Coach Frank Vogel could only smile and ask, “Who’s had a harder schedule?”
While every team besides Philadelphia has had an easier road to start the 2017-18 regular season campaign, Vogel knows it’s not going to gain his squad any sympathy on the court.
“Nobody is feeling sorry for us,” Vogel said. “We have to beat whoever is in front of us.”
The Magic’s next task at hand, the Thunder (8-11), head into Amway Center on Wednesday still looking to hit their stride. But with a lineup stacked with perennial All-Stars in Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, Orlando will have its hands full as it attempts to right the ship.
“This could be it right here,” Elfrid Payton explained. “This could be the two big wins -- let’s take it one game at a time -- this could be the big win to spark it. We get them at home. We feel like we’re a good home team.”
After an impressive 8-4 start to the season, Orlando headed to Denver and began a nine-game slide that’s included six contests that have ended in double-digit defeats. While that could lead to implosion in many NBA locker rooms, the Magic’s squad has stayed tight knit, instead leaning on the hard work they put in together this offseason, their off-the-court chemistry and the early on-court success they had together this year.
“It’s super frustrating, but you just have to stay positive, keep pushing, keep working and break through,” Payton said. “We could look back at this later and be like ‘man, that was rough times, but look how far we’ve come,’ so that’s the kind of mindset we’ve got moving forward.”
The Magic did their best to put that plan into action in practice on Tuesday, engaging in a competitive scrimmage as well as focusing on adjusting their transition defense. At the end of the day, as Jonathon Simmons stressed, it will be about on-the-court action rather than lip-service that will help turn things around.
“Guys have to be able to accept constructive criticism and transfer that onto the court and do what’s best for this team,” Simmons said. “You can do as much talking as you want to, but if you don’t physically do something about it yourself then we’re just doing a bunch of talking and barking for no reason.”
In addition to the tough road schedule, numerous back-to-backs and hard-hitting opponents, Orlando has also been bitten by the injury bug. They’ve played stretches thus far this season without their top two point guards and lost promising rookie Jonathan Isaac to a sprained ankle in the first contest of their current nine-game skid.
However, they may not be without Isaac for much longer as he took the next step in his rehab process by participating in the non-contact portions of practice.
“It felt good, I’m definitely making progress,” Isaac said. “I can’t wait to get back out on the court.”
The Magic have desperately missed the No. 6 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, who has not only flashed athleticism and defense, but a team-first attitude that centers around ball movement and making the right play on both ends of the court.
While he’s not expected to play on Wednesday, the Magic hope to have him back in the fold soon along with a few extra notches in the win column.