Though Frustrated, Magic Hope to Learn From This Season's Struggles

by John Denton

ORLANDO – While the regular season will mercifully come to an end tonight for the Orlando Magic, it will likely do little to ease the frustration of another year of basketball that fell well below the team’s expectations.

The Magic had high hopes for this season and they felt that the combination of continuity between the coaching staff and the returning core of the team plus the growth of several young players could lead to the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2012. Starts of 6-2 and later 8-4 early on seemed to confirm those beliefs and the Magic appeared to be on their way to showing some marked improvement this season.

However, a rash of injuries and a particularly difficult portion of the schedule hit at the same time, sending Orlando into a tailspin from which it never recovered. Two nine-game losing streaks ultimately led to a stretch where the Magic dropped 27 of 31 games at one point, souring the high hopes and yet another season.

Orlando now limps into tonight’s regular-season finale at 24-57 and losers of 14 of the past 18 games. Instead of pushing for a playoff spot, the Magic come into the night technically with the fifth-worst record in the NBA. Phoenix (21-61) and Memphis (22-59) have the two worst records, while Atlanta (24-58) and Dallas (24-58) are a half-game worse than Orlando in the standings. The Hawks and Mavs concluded their seasons on Tuesday by resting many of their regular players in losses.

This is not the position that any of the Magic players expected themselves to be in as the season comes to an inglorious close, and that is particularly frustrating to them.

``It’s disappointing. We underachieved as a team and that’s always disappointing,’’ Magic forward Aaron Gordon said. ``We’d loved to be in the playoffs, but I guess we weren’t ready.’’

Orlando’s opponent, Washington, also slogged through a disappointing finish (7-12 in the last 19 games), but it still has plenty of motivation to win tonight. The Wizards, 113-101 winners over Boston on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., woke up Wednesday sitting in the eighth seed. The Wizards are tied with Miami (43-38), but they would lose out on a tiebreaker with the Heat.

To get the sixth seed, Washington must beat Orlando while Milwaukee and Miami lose. To get the seventh seed, Washington must win tonight and get a loss by either the Heat or Bucks, who are visiting Philadelphia. The sixth seed would earn Washington a matchup with Cleveland or Philadelphia, while the seventh seed means a matchup against Boston and a rematch of last season’s seven-game series in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Orlando hoped to be in the playoff mix, fighting with division rivals Miami and Washington for one of the Eastern Conference’s Final spot. However, the team has had months to deal with the reality that there will be no postseason in Orlando for a sixth straight April. That, Magic center Bismack Biyombo said, is extremely disappointing considering the strong start that the team got off to in mid-October.

``At that point, yeah, (the team was encouraged), but it was the beginning of the season and I think I said around that time that we have not faced the struggle yet or had seen the adjustment that other teams would make,’’ Biyombo said. ``Obviously, it did not go the way that we all expected. At the end of the day, I feel like it was a learning process for all of us and hopefully everybody in the locker room learns from it, grows from it and sees how they can have a better season (in the future).’’

Magic coach Frank Vogel said that even though his team has little to play for tonight, he wants to see it play hard to the end. Also, he will look to continue to the team’s development of its young players by allowing Orlando’s second and third teams handle the bulk of the minutes in the finale against the Wizards. Vogel said he’s disappointed that on ``Fan Appreciation Night’’ the season will come to an end with no playoffs in the immediate future.

``I love the fans here and I’ve had a great relationship every time I see someone out in public, season-ticketholders’ events and those types of things,’’ Vogel said. ``We’ve had great fan support and they love this team. Like me, they are eager to see it get turned around. And I’m excited to be a part of it and look forward to being able to reward them with that.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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