The Orlando Magic are currently the four seed in the East, with a 26-14 record. Not bad, but they are 4-6 in their last 10. If you watch the games, right now they are not the same team that made it to the Finals last year — you can make a good case for starting White Chocolate in front of Jameer Nelson right now. Seriously. What is going on in Orlando?
I asked Philip Rossman-Reich of the TrueHoop Network Blog Orlando Magic Daily to explain what is happening:
A lot has happened to the Magic since the Lakers danced off the Amway Arena floor with the Larry O’Brien trophy. Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee are gone, Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson (and Brandon Bass and Jason Williams and Matt Barnes, plus the return of a “healthy” Jameer Nelson) are in. On paper this looks like it would be a huge upgrade as Orlando has sorely missed a go-to scorer since the days of Tracy McGrady. Not only that, but the team is much much deeper and easily goes 10 players into their rotation.
But things are not quite so happy in the Magic kingdom. Orlando had to weather the storm of some early injuries that went with Rashard Lewis’ 10-game suspension to start the season. Things worked then. But as players have had to be integrated back into the lineup and new combinations are playing together, something seems off. It is hard to put a finger on what exactly is wrong with the team. A lot of times the effort is simply not there to go out and win games. It is like the team expects to hit the floor and win basketball games. And I think we all know that is not how things work in the NBA.
There has been a lot of pressure put on this team. Nothing lower than a championship would be an acceptable outcome. This is really the first time a lot of these players have faced that kind of pressure and scrutiny on a day-to-day basis and I think it is wearing on them more than they would like to admit.
It certainly is not an excuse, but really thinking this is maybe the third year in the franchise’s history (1995 and 1996 being the other two) that a title was a realistic expectation. Last year caught everyone by surprise as the team flew under the radar and had to prove themselves as they played the disrespect card. No one is disrespecting the Magic this year and everyone is giving their best shot to them.
This has been made more difficult by the shuffling lineups Stan Van Gundy has had to use. The Magic have had their top four guys in the lineup a total of 12 times this season. That is 12 of 40 games! With two new starters and a bunch of new guys coming off the bench, that transition has not been easy. It is made worse by the fact everyone is shooting and performing much worse than last year. Vince Carter is having the worst shooting year of his career. Jameer Nelson, who is still working his way back from tearing his meniscus and missing 16 games, has regressed to the mean after his all star season last year. And Rashard Lewis is still fitting his way into the offense with Carter dominating the ball more than Turkoglu did.
That does not even get into Dwight Howard, who still struggles to get his teammates to get him the ball and is still a 50-50 chance at the line.
These problems are vexing everyone — fans, coaches and the players themselves. 26-14 is certainly not a bad record. Orlando is still within striking distance at the top of the Eastern Conference and despite all the turmoil, I think a lot of people still expect them to break through. But the lack of energy and offensive inconsistency from this team has been really disconcerting and has led to a very puzzling first half of the season.