Five days ago, Orlando suffered a bitterly disappointing loss to Sacramento that left everyone questioning just about everything about the team. Dwight Howard had some choice words for his teammates and coach Stan Van Gundy echoed those sentiments in an apparent team approved message. They spent Thursday watching tape and having a deep conversation about some of the team’s struggles.
The last two games seem to have shown the Magic are getting the message.
Orlando gave up 87.0 points per game against Oklahoma City and Charlotte and playing with tons of energy. It was certainly a far cry from the listless effort Orlando put in coming out of the All-Star Break against Sacramento.
What was more encouraging was the ball movement. Orlando had 26 assists in each game and 18 of the 20 3-point attempts in the last two games were assists — eight of 10 Sunday and 10 of 10 Friday. That has not always been the case when the team was struggling the last few months. Life is much better when you are winning, sharing the ball and making shots.
These last two games have been good. Very positive signs.
Of course as Stan Van Gundy said after Friday’s game, it was about how you play the next game against the not-so-elite Bobcats. Orlando played Friday’s game with playoff-like intensity and were more than ready to play and dig in defensively. It is the kind of intensity we have seen from this team only in spurts since the trades. The potential has always been there and has shown itself — anyone remember that nine-game win streak?
Despite all the concern and worry there is greatness in this team. It is just about consistency. That has been Stan Van Gundy’s message throughout this whole ordeal.
That is what he wanted after Friday’s game. After Sunday’s game, he offered a mixed review. He was not happy with the team’s overall energy and the fact the team never had its burst to pull completely away from the Bobcats. But it was perhaps some nitpicking on what was all in all a good win for Orlando.
Consistency has to be the buzz word around Amway Center right now. Lately, Dwight Howard has been the only one that has been consistent. Howard won his fifth Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award after averaging 30.3 points and 14.0 rebounds per game this week. In his last 10 games, Howard is averaging an equally impressive 27.6 points and 14.7 rebounds per game while shooting 83.3 percent true shooting percentage.
No one doubts what Howard is going to do on a nightly basis, although how he has played recently has been on another level. The question is what will his teammates do. That has always been the question even back when Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis were around.
March is going to test this consistency even more. And it will be imperative for the Magic to do well during that stretch.
It starts with New York on Tuesday, continues with Miami on Thursday and Chicago on Friday. Quite the three-game stretch. It gets worse throughout March with a trip out West for a five-game road swing. Ten of Orlando’s 15 games in March are on the road. And after the West Coast swing it includes two trips to New York and a month-concluding venture to Atlanta. All those games are pretty important.
March will be the time to find out what this team is made of on a night-to-night and game-to-game basis. That consistency of effort and energy Van Gundy and Howard have been pleading for will come into sharp focus during the next 31 days.