By John Denton Nov. 22, 2017
MINNEAPOLIS – Often, the NBA’s marathon-like, 82-game season is similar to a collection of stretches where a team runs freely at times and runs in mud at others, breezes along some on a downhill slope and slogs at others points while trying to get over the hump.
The Orlando Magic have experienced both already in this NBA season, running away from foes the first eight games and inexplicably falling flat over the next nine. The goal now for the Magic (8-9) is to find some firm footing just as they are continuing on one of the most difficult stretches of the season.
Losers of five straight, Orlando will be looking to get itself back on the right path tonight when it takes on the talented, but mercurial Timberwolves (10-7) in Minnesota. Difficult games will follow in Boston (Friday), Philadelphia (Saturday) and Indiana (Monday) and the Magic know the importance of ending their losing streak now.
``It would have been nice to have gotten the two games at home, but it is what it is and we have to figure things out on this road trip,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, one of the team’s few bright spots in Wednesday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers. ``It’s important for us to get some wins on this trip or we’re going to dig ourselves a really big hole.’’
Added forward Aaron Gordon: ``The NBA is a league of streaks. You win three in a row, four in a row and then lose two in a row. We, obviously, want to cut down on the losing streaks, but we know we’re a good team.’’
Whereas the Magic open the season 6-2 and have since slumped to 2-7, the Wolves have had a similar zig-zag pattern to their season. They have posted winning streaks of five games and three games, but they have also suffered three multi-game losing skids. They lost Sunday night at home to Detroit and then got smashed on Monday by Charlotte and the 49th 20-point, 20-rebound career of center Dwight Howard.
``Two (consecutive losses) sometimes feels like five,’’ veteran guard Jamal Crawford said of Minnesota’s struggles. ``That’s what we’re going through because we don’t like losing. We feel like every night we have a chance to win. So, for us, every loss feels like a little more.’’
Newcomers Jimmy Butler (16.3 ppg., 42 percent shooting) and Jeff Teague (13.5 ppg., 41.3 percent shooting) has struggled at times meshing with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns (20.6 ppg., 53.7 percent shooting) and Andrew Wiggins (18.8 points per game, 46 percent shooting).
Offensive decline – especially in terms of ball movement and not turning the ball over – have been big issues of late for the Magic. During its stellar 6-2 start, Orlando averaged 114.9 points and 25.2 assists a game while shooting 48.9 percent from the floor and 44.2 percent from 3-point range. In the nine games since, the Magic offense has mustered 99.3 points and 22.8 assists on 44.2 percent shooting and 34.1 percent accuracy from 3-point range.
Still, the Magic have the respect of Minnesota’s Butler. The Timberwolves are starting a four-game, eight-day home stand and Butler said his squad can’t relax just because it is home for the holidays.
``They’re a really good team with a lot of really good players, but the thing for us is knowing that we’re going to be home for a while and you can become complacent,’’ Butler said. ``You can think, we’re at home and it’s OK to relax,’ but that can’t be the case. As good a team as (the Magic) are, we have to focus on us more than we do on them. We can’t be lazy just because we’re at home. We’ve got to be the best that we can be.’’
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