Remember back at the beginning of the month when Orlando got thumped by Miami sending even the most optimistic Magic fans into a tail spin of, “Oh my god how are we going to stand up to the Heat? This season is hopeless.”
OK, some people are still thinking that way as Denver and Carmelo Anthony continue to be at an impasse concerning a contract extension and Orlando continues to win, but is falling far short of looking good while doing it. The defense has been inconsistent, the offense has been inconsistent and everyone is fretting.
So here we are. The week of reckoning.
The Magic have been eking out wins while looking dominant at times and puzzling at others. There have been few “signature” wins in the first month of the season and a few earth-shattering losses. The memories of home losses to Utah and Toronto haunt more than a nice win over Atlanta.
Even with an 9-3 record, you can sense some uncertainty even from Stan Van Gundy (who admitted that this team is different despite returning mostly the same personnel after Saturday’s win) about this team. It is just 12 games in, so conclusions can almost begin to be drawn. The team is slowly developing an identity of tough defense and (surprisingly) inconsistent offense. I have to agree with Van Gundy that eventually these players will reach their averages.
What is surprising is Orlando has defeated only one of the two teams it has faced that is currently over .500. Both those numbers deserve thought. Orlando has played two games against teams that are currently above .500. The Magic have had a relatively easy road to an Eastern Conference-best 9-3.
So this week is gut check time for the Magic. San Antonio on Monday. The big rematch with Miami on Wednesday. The surprising, and 5-7, Cavaliers on Friday with the young Wizards the night following. Four games in the next seven days will tell us a lot about who this Magic team is and what Otis Smith will have to do or not do to make this a championship roster.
We really have no idea what to expect from this Magic team against better competition and I am sure Van Gundy will de-emphasize the importance of this week’s games (they all still count for one, right?). But they are important measuring sticks.
The end of the first month means the novelty of a new season is wearing off and we are getting into the grind where it becomes tougher to get excited about the mundane day-to-day operations of a season. Orlando is still looking to establish an identity and it is tougher to establish that against the lower-run teams. Orlando’s uninspired early season play is giving the team — and its fans — the perception that it is not a championship-caliber team.
Time to start proving that they are. Solid performances this week would go a long way to assuring everyone with the Magic that there is a real chance at a title.
It is a long season, but we will learn a lot about the level of Orlando’s defense and just how good this team will be this week.