ORLANDO — Magic fans have probably been fretting over their place in the Eastern Conference during this recent slide that has seen Orlando lose eight of its past nine games. The Magic have dovetailed from the best record in the Eastern Conference at 14-4 to sixth in the conference at 16-12. Meanwhile, Orlando’s chief competition in the conference have found their rhythm and are pulling away.
Kiss any hope of gaining home court advantage throughout the Playoffs goodbye. And that is surely not something anyone wants to hear or believe. Orlando is certainly not out of it, but the team currently sits in sixth, seven games back of Boston for the top seed and four games back of Miami for the division lead.
Still, coach Stan Van Gundy does not believe the rut the team is in now changes the ultimate goal of winning the title. It just temporarily shifts the team’s focus from looking at the standings to focusing on getting better as a team.
“You want to win as many games as you can and get the best playoff seeding you can,” Van Gundy said before Thursday’s game. “We’ve fallen into a little bit of a hole here, there is no question about that. It doesn’t change the goal at all. But I think right now we can’t get too hung up on looking at the standings on a daily basis and starting in on some panic on where we are. That’s not where we are right now.”
Van Gundy pointed to the team’s recent stretch where it has simply been unable to practice or get the new players integrated into the team. The team went through its first full practice (and it was even a non-contact practice) Wednesday after playing two games based on shootarounds and walk throughs. The team will get Friday off for Christmas and then will be back into the grind with a back-to-back in New Jersey and Cleveland next week.
Still, the team is going to be fighting for the best seed it can get.
It is pretty clear Orlando is still in the top six in the Eastern Conference. And certainly no team would want to face Dwight Howard in the first round. But that is a long way down the road.
More than a quarter through the season, teams are starting to develop who they are and the Magic simply are not there yet thanks to the trades that have completely remade their roster.
“I think the most unknown is us right now, because of the moves,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think anybody knows where we’re going to fit in (the Eastern Conference). … In an ideal world, we don’t want to be 28 games in and not know about your team. But that’s the reality of where we are right now when you make a move. We’re a team starting know. We know we like our talent. I think we know the possibilities are real good, but we don’t know how it’s all going to work out.”
This process is still going to take some time.
Van Gundy is still settling on rotations — Brandon Bass will start tonight, moving Hedo Turkoglu back to the three and JJ Redick back to the bench — but even the starting lineup is not set in stone (Van Gundy said to expect tonight’s lineup to last through the New York game next Thursday). Tonight, as Van Gundy said after Tuesday’s game, he is just looking for progress.
“I don’t think overconfidence is going to be one of our problems,” Van Gundy said. “Our problem is more like learning each other’s names. We’re sort of in the mode now, it’s not really who we’re playing. We know how good (the Spurs) are. As good as these guys are and as huge a challenge as they present, that’s not the biggest obstacle right now. The biggest obstacle is getting our group together to be able to play and everybody getting on the same page.”
The immediate expectations might have changed, but the end goal is still the same.