I remember the days when the Magic were a mediocre and middling franchise and scratched and clawed their way into the playoffs every year, only to lose in the first round. Thankfully, those days are long gone. But something that always struck me after Stan Van Gundy arrived and the Magic started winning again was the disappearance of the losing streak.
What I thought was the biggest difference between scratching the surface of the postseason and really being able to make noise as a high seed was preventing losing streaks. The last two seasons, and so far this year, the team has been really good at minimizing its losing streaks to one or, at most, two games. Those teams the previous decade always seemed to have at least one five-game losing streak that knocked them down a rung or two in the Eastern Conference ladder.
Everyone remembers THE losing streak in 2003. I am not talking about that.
It is simple to understand that losing a lot of games consecutively makes you worse than a team that does not lose a lot of games in a row. This is not an argument for the obvious (although, it kind of should be).
But what Stan Van Gundy has done in two and one quarter years with the Magic is not only prevent losing streaks but respond from them. That is what makes the prospects of what could come out of Orlando’s current two-game skid – or for those who always think negatively – being a sign that Orlando is falling off the contender’s perch.
I tend to think positively, and Van Gundy’s history with the Magic tells us they will more than recover.
So far this season, Orlando is 4-1 in the game after losses. More impressively, the Magic have won those five games by an average of 12.8 points per game. This includes victories over Phoenix and Atlanta and Friday’s three-point loss in Phoenix.
Orlando – so far this year – has responded to losses with dominating performances. Howard is averaging 19.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in those games.
This team knows how to respond. But, as I mentioned earlier, Van Gundy’s Magic squads have been quite good responding to losses throughout his time in Orlando.
Last year, the Magic went 19-4 in games after losing and had a Van Gundy-high three-game losing streak in the final four games – which as you remember came partially as a result of Howard and Rashard Lewis sitting and Orlando preparing for the postseason. The Magic outscored opponents by an average of 11.4 points per game. In the 2007-08 season, they were 21-9 and beat teams by an average of 8.0 points per game.
As Professor John Hollinger always tells us, point differential is a better indicator of how dominant a team is, so it makes sense to see the Magic’s differential generally improve as the team has gotten better – especially in these types of games.
For reference, the Lakers went 13-4 last year on their way to the title (no streaks of more than two games) and the Celtics went 12-4 after losses with a three-game skid. Again, teams that win a lot of games don’t lose a lot of games in a row.
It is an obvious concept. But the Magic know how to respond after defeats and usually thump whoever they play next. In other words, I would not want to be the Pacers entering Monday’s game.