The Orlando Magic have now lost five of their last six games and have been held under 70 points in three of those losses. After a loss to the New Orleans Hornets Friday, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy thought this was the worst stretch of games since he’s been coach of the Magic. After losses to the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers, it’s only gotten worse.
“It’s a bad stretch for us,” point guard Chris Duhon told reporters. “Probably for most of us, the worst one of our careers.”
It’s not just that the Magic are losing games – it’s the way they’re doing it. It started last Monday in Boston when the Magic set records for futility – they scored just 56 points on 24.6% shooting – both franchise-lows. They followed it up with a perhaps surprisingly easy win over the Pacers in Indiana. Thursday, the Magic set out for revenge when they hosted the Celtics and it looked like they were going to get it as they built a 27-point first half lead. That lead quickly disappeared as the Celtics rallied for a 91-83 win. The Magic then played one of the league’s worst teams, the New Orleans Hornets, Friday and were blown out 93-67. They followed that up with a 106-85 home loss to the Pacers Sunday and 74-69 loss in Philadelphia against the 76ers Monday night.
“It’s been a miserable week overall,” Magic guard J.J. Redick said.
The Magic have been one of the elite teams in the league since Van Gundy arrived on the scene. Many analysts wrote the Magic off after a first round playoff exit last season, but the Magic began to silence many of those critics with an 11-4 start. Now that the Magic are just 12-9, the critics are returning and the talk surrounding Dwight Howard’s situation has been turned up.
Howard, who still wishes to be dealt to the New Jersey Nets, called out his teammates after Friday’s loss in New Orleans. Although Van Gundy, Howard and his teammates continue to deny his situation has anything to do with the way the Magic are playing, we all know that just isn’t true.
Van Gundy truly is one of the league’s elite coaches, but he now faces the toughest job of his entire career and he can’t seem to find the answers he’s looking for.
“Obviously I have not gotten that done and that’s frustrating to me as a coach,” Van Gundy told reporters. “It’s my job to get it done and to get it turned around and I have not gotten that done.”
Van Gundy knows what Orlando’s problems are, but finding solutions isn’t that simple.
“I don’t know where to start,” Redick told the collected media. “It’s a lot of things, it’s not one thing. I wish I could pinpoint one thing. I wish there was an algebraic equation to have a final answer.”
The Magic are just 11th in defensive efficiency. Although that’s eight spots better than their sputtering offense, Van Gundy’s teams have always prided themselves on the defensive end.
“It’s frustrating because we always try to build around it (defense),” Van Gundy explained. “I think that’s what we got to change first.”
“Our main thing is that we have to put the defense first,” Chris Duhon told reporters. “Put the effort and energy into defense. It’s easy to play defense when shots are being made, but we have to become a team that when shots are not being made, we still put a real good effort defensively to keep us in games.”
Orlando looked much better on the defensive end Monday, holding the Sixers to just 74 points on 30-of-80 shooting, but their anemic offense sent them to their fourth straight loss. The Magic had just 42 points through three quarters before padding their stats and making the game appear closer than it really was during garbage time.
“Clearly, we’re having struggles on the offensive end,” Van Gundy said.
That’s an understatement.
“To me, there’s no mystery in what needs to happen;” Van Gundy explained. “It’s how you get it to happen. I think the first thing is you’ve got to somehow find a consistent energy and effort.”
Van Gundy always stresses the team’s energy level and thinks that’s the first step in not only turning around Orlando’s offense, but their defense as well.
“That has to happen on the defensive end of the floor,” Van Gundy told members of the media. “We weren’t bad until the last five games but our defense… we’re not going to win with that defense.”
Van Gundy went on to explain he believes the three keys to winning games are defending, rebounding and taking care of the ball – all three have been major issues for the Magic.
Only six teams turn the ball over over then the Magic, who give it away 26.2% of the time.
The Magic know they need to make some serious changes to correct their mistakes, but they promise they’re not going to give up.
“We have to muster up the courage and fortitude to reach inside of ourselves and figure out how tough we are and be better,” Redick said.
We’ll keep fighting – at least I will, I’ll keep fighting – and we’ll try to get better,” Van Gundy. said.
News & Notes:
- The Magic have it a little easier this week – they’ll host the 4-15 Washington Wizards Wednesday and the 8-11 Cleveland Cavaliers Friday.
- On Saturday, they’ll be in Indiana to play the Pacers (again).
- Daniel Orton scored his first NBA points in his first NBA action Friday night when he hit two free throws.
- DeAndre Liggins was activated to replace Jason Richardson (knee) on the active roster before Monday’s loss in Philadelphia.
- I joined the guys on the Primetime Show in Tampa to talk about the struggles of the Magic. You can listen to that segment here .
(Andrew Melnick is the ESPNFlorida.com  Magic and NBA Insider, co-host of the ESPN 1080 Insiders Show and publisher of Howard the Dunk. The Insiders Show can be heard Sunday mornings at 10:00 am EST on AM 1080 in Orlando and on ESPNFlorida.com . You can follow Andrew on twitter here.)