Skiles Named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month

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By John Denton

Jan. 4, 2016

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Hired last May to bring structure, toughness and success to a young and promising roster loaded with potential, Scott Skiles has done just that for the Orlando Magic – especially over the feel-good month of December.

Following an impressive 10-5 month with the Magic, Skiles was named the Eastern Conference’s Coach of the Month for December. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich won the award in the Western Conference after the Spurs went 14-2 in December.

Skiles is the first Magic coach to win the monthly recognition award since Stan Van Gundy did it in April of 2010. Coincidentally, Skiles and Van Gundy will face off tonight when the Magic (19-15) play the Pistons (18-16) at 7:30 p.m. outside of snowy Detroit.

Orlando closed December by winning seven of its last nine games and from Nov. 25 to Dec. 31, the Magic compiled a 13-5 record – the best mark in the vastly improved Eastern Conference. And by going 10-5 in December, it was the Magic’s first 10-win month since February 2012 when they went 11-4. The last time the Magic had a 10-win December was 2008 when they went 12-3.

``Overall, we had a good month,’’ said Skiles, whose Magic had winning streaks of five, three and two games in December. ``It was a double-digit win month and if you win double digits every month you’ll have a heck of a year. We haven’t done that in quite awhile and now we’ve got to turn the page and start another one.’’

Magic center Nikola Vucevic, a hopeful to reach the NBA All-Star Game in February for the first time in his NBA career, was nominated for the East’s Player of the Month award, but he lost out to Brooklyn's Brook Lopez. Vucevic closed December with seven straight games with at least 20 points, giving him eight 20-point efforts in the month. He also showed off his versatility with 12 games of at least three assists in the month. In December, Vucevic averaged 19.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists. For the season, he’s posted career-best numbers in assists (2.7) and field goal percentage (52.7 percent) while also averaging team highs in scoring (16.8 ppg.) and rebounding (8.5 rpg.).

A head coach previously in Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee, Skiles has won the NBA’s Coach of the Month award on three other occasions (January 2005, April 2006 and February 2010). He finished second in the Coach of the Year voting following the 2009-10 season when he led the Bucks to a 46-36 record for their first winning season in seven years.

Skiles could be on his way to pulling off a similar feat in Orlando if the Magic can post more months like December. Coming off seasons in which it won just 20, 23 and 25 games the past three seasons while rebuilding, Orlando started the season 0-2 with heartbreaking losses to Washington and Oklahoma City. But the Magic rallied to go 9-6 in November – their first winning month since March of 2012.

A key moment came late in November when Skiles had the foresight to juggle the starting lineup to balance out the team, get more shooting on the floor and send a jolt into the players. Moving sweet-shooting power forward Channing Frye to the starting lineup and having Victor Oladipo steady the second unit worked wonders for the Magic as they immediately ripped off wins against New York, Milwaukee, Boston, Minnesota and Utah.

``Right from the very first days we felt like we were going to be a good practice team. They were in tune, buying in and all of that,’’ Skiles said. ``What we felt, more than anything, was a determination to turn it around. When we were 1-4, we were battling and when we were 6-8, we were battling. We’re going to go through tough times again, but we feel like this team will keep battling all season.’’

Tough times hit late last week when Orlando started 2016 off with frustrating losses to Washington and Cleveland. Most NBA teams team the day off after playing a back-to-back set of games, but Skiles put his team through a film session and a short, but lively practice session on Sunday in hopes of halting some of Orlando’s slippages on defense and with the ball movement.

Clearly, Skiles has earned the respect of the Magic players and they believe that they can win because of the tough-minded, no-excuses culture he has established around the team.

``I think we’re starting to believe in ourselves and we’re getting confidence that we know that the system works and the coaching staff is really pointing us in the right direction,’’ said Magic power forward Jason Smith, a key off-season addition in free agency. ``I’ve said that since Day One that this coaching staff has done a great job really giving us a great sense of direction and a plan to go and get wins. We’ve done that so far. We have a lot of things to get better at, but we’ve done pretty well so far.’’

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