ORLANDO – Consistency, an elusive element thus far for the Orlando Magic, will ultimately decide what kind of season the team has this season, head coach Steve Clifford said.
Clifford has been preaching a message of consistency for weeks, but the Magic have struggled to bring the same sort of aggression, focus and organization to each game. Clifford has repeatedly told his team that it must find a way to play offensively and defensively that can lead to success nightly and then stick with it regardless the opponent or the venue.
Despite those demands, Orlando came into Sunday’s game against the rival Miami Heat just 8-9 over its last 17 games. During that stretch, the Magic have gotten above .500 once (9-8), sat at .500 three times (9-9, 10-10 and 12-12) and was a game below .500 four more times (9-10, 10-11, 11-12, 12-13 and 14-15). The Magic’s longest winning streak over the last 17 games has been three, while they also have four streaks of at least two losses in a row.
``That’s what this whole league is,’’ Clifford said, referring to consistency. ``I can’t run from this – the person most responsible for how we play is the head coach. Then, it’s the best players. That’s where the consistency has to come. That (inconsistency) ends up being the difference between the really good teams and the good teams, the good teams and the mediocre teams.’’
Shooting, an area where the Magic have been wildly inconsistent all season, has been a big issue of late. In the six games prior to Sunday, the Magic shot just 39.1 percent from the floor (30thin the NBA) and only 31.9 percent from 3-point range (27thin the NBA). Their offensive rating of 91.7 (points per 100 possessions) also ranks last in the NBA.
Improvement from day to day, Clifford said, will ultimately give the Magic their best chance at having a successful season.
``When you play 82 games you don’t get three days to practice between games. You’ve got to be able to get a little better in those hour-long shootarounds,’’ Clifford insisted. ``We’re playing three games in five nights. Like (Thursday’s practice) was an hour, 10 minutes, and 25 minutes of that was the film and you’ve got to get better off the film. That’s where I feel confident with these guys because we have a smart team and I believe they badly want to win.’’
WADE’S FINAL TRIP TO ORLANDO: With Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade set to retire at season’s end, Sunday’s showdown against the Magic was the final regular-season game of his likely Hall of Fame career in Orlando. It was the 25thtime that he’s played a regular-season game in Orlando.
In 16 NBA seasons – most of them with the Heat – Wade has his share of big games against the Magic – but not as many as one might expect despite often playing Orlando four times a season.
In his 51 games against the Magic, Wade has scored 30 or more 11 times. That actually is tied for fourth for the most 30-point games against any opponent. Wade has 14 30—point games against Toronto and Indiana and 12 against New York. He has 11 against Orlando, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Golden State.
Coming into Sunday, Wade had averaged 23.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists against the Magic. He has averaged more points a game against eight other NBA teams.
``There’s no greater compliment, right,’’ Clifford said after calling Wade ``an ultimate competitor’’ in the past. ``I think that from when he first entered the league, he wanted the ball in big spots and he’s always played great in fourth quarters. I mean playoffs, championship series and everything else, I mean he’s just a winning player. And he’s like all of the other great, great players in that he got better every year.’’
HUMOROUS MOMENT FOR SPOELSTRA: A slight misunderstanding led to a bit of levity on Sunday night for Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
When a reporter asked Spoelstra prior to tipoff about him going for the 500thvictory of his career, the veteran head coach misunderstood the question and assumed he was being asked about the Heat’s chances of moving to .500 on the season. Miami came into Sunday having won four in a row to move to 15-16 on the season.
``We didn’t want to be here (hovering around .500) now at this point, but we’ve had to show some grit to dig deep and get to an identity,’’ Spoelstra. ``So, I’m sure there’s some significance in the locker room to getting to that (.500) point and it would be a good first step. But I haven’t brought (the .500 record) up.’’
When informed that he was being asked about his chance to win a 500thgame as a head coach, Spoelstra shook his head and smiled.
``Oh, I had no idea,’’ an embarrassed Spoelstra said. ``I feel like (500 wins) means I’m getting old. It’s like when I turned 48 this year, my dad sent me a nice text that said, `There’s just no way that I have a 48-year-old son.’’’
UP NEXT: The Magic are scheduled to practice on Christmas Eve, but will take Christmas Day off completely.
The Magic will be back in action on Wednesday when they host the struggling Phoenix Suns. Phoenix fell 149-146 in triple overtime on Saturday night to the Washington Wizards.
Orlando came out on top in the first meeting between the two teams, winning 99-85 in Phoenix on Nov. 30.
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