Magic Still Searching for Consistency

By John Denton
Jan. 24, 2018

ORLANDO – Informed on Tuesday morning that his Orlando Magic had gone more than two months without winning games consecutively, center Bismack Biyombo reacted with some playful angst and promised that things would be different going forward.

Sadly for Biyombo and the Magic, things weren’t any different when they saw their recent stretch of solid play end in a frustration-filled 105-99 loss to the previously slumping Sacramento Kings.

Biyombo has been around for all the Magic’s struggles over the last season-and-a-half, but he said he’d never actually put together the raw data behind Orlando’s inability to string together successes from one game to the next. Following Tuesday night’s loss, the Magic still haven’t won consecutive games since Nov. 8 and 10 and they are a head-scratching 4-11 this season after victories. That inability to sustain any sort of positive momentum from game to game has been the primary reason why the Magic are stuck with a 14-33 record and still looking for answers to the questions that surround the team.

``While driving home I thought about that over and over and over and it was like I got punched really hard,’’ Biyombo said of being told that Orlando hadn’t won consecutive games since toppling New York and Phoenix in mid-November. ``At the same time, when you’re playing the way we are and being really up and down, you ask yourself, `What can I possibly do to help my guys?’

``I think every player should know when the last time was that we won two in a row. I didn’t, personally, know because my only focus was one game at a time,’’ Biyombo continued. ``But when you heard that, it changed the way you think, it changed the way you (prepared) and it changed the way you came into the building. At the same time, this is a learning process for some of our guys and we’ve got to continue to grow. It’s been very challenging for everybody and we’ve just got to figure out a way to stay together and continue to grow.’’

The kind of growth that Magic head coach Frank Vogel would like to see now is on the fronts of consistency, maturity and discipline. While he was immensely pleased with how his Magic played last week in beating Minnesota and Boston and pushing Cleveland to the brink, Vogel feared the Magic might have an emotional letdown against a Sacramento team that entered having lost eight straight and 13 of the previous 15 games. Vogel called it ``laughable’’ that the Magic would overlook any team considering their own mid-season struggles to win games, and his fears of a letdown were confirmed in the team’s lackadaisical approach to practice on Monday, he said.

Then, on Tuesday came another disappointing defeat – this time because of 17 turnovers, because the defense allowed the lightly regarded Garrett Temple to pour in a career-best 34 points and because the Magic offense went 5:33 of the fourth quarter without a field goal. The root of all those problems, however, was the Magic’s improper approach to the game, Vogel said.

``We need to see a lot more from guys – leadership, consistency in their play, toughness,’’ Vogel said. ``We have to guard our own man, OK? We have to guard our own man. We have to bring more to the defensive end. I’m very disappointed in the defensive performance.’’

Without question, the rebuilding Magic have their limitations because of injuries to center Nikola Vucevic, guard Terrence Ross and forward Jonathan Isaac and the lack of a dynamic, difference-making star. But when the Magic play together, play through the pass and play with intensity – as they did in an impressive 2-2 stretch against four playoff-bound teams – they prove that they can be the equals of some of the NBA’s top teams.

Against a Sacramento team that rested veterans Zach Randolph and George Hill and lost rookie De’Aaron Fox to a second-quarter injury, the Magic turned the ball over at least four times in each quarter, they squandered an 11-point lead late in the third quarter, they bogged down late offensively (11 fourth-quarter possessions ended in either missed 3-pointers or turnovers) and they never slowed down Temple (17 straight points for Sacramento in the fourth quarter).

``I think it was just a lack of urgency,’’ said power forward Aaron Gordon, whose seven turnovers were a high for any Magic player this season. ``We weren’t sharp. … Attention to detail, I guess.’’

Orlando’s inability to carry over success from one game to the next is nothing new to much of the roster. Last season, when the Magic limped through a disappointing 29-53 campaign, they captured consecutive victories just once from Dec. 26 through April 12 – a span of 49 games.

This season, Orlando defeated Cleveland, Brooklyn and San Antonio early on and had two other two-game winning streaks to once sit at a promising 8-4. It was about that time, however, that the team was hit hard by injuries and the schedule grew teeth with a slew of difficult road games.

Since winning at home against New York on Nov. 8 and in Phoenix on Nov. 10, the Magic have beaten just six teams – Oklahoma City, New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Minnesota and Boston. Each time, however, Orlando has been unable to carry that momentum into the next game and has fallen. It’s a frustrating pattern that has confounded most with the Magic, namely fourth-year guard Elfrid Payton.

``It’s super frustrating because you’re talking about something that’s been going on for four years now,’’ said Payton, who had 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists on Tuesday, but was unable to slow Sacramento’s Temple. ``With how much work you put in in the offseason and in practice and then come out and have the same results, we’re looking at like four years of this now and it’s pretty disappointing.’’

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