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It is hard to look at the standings and not get that competitive urge.
The realities for the Magic are they have lost 10 of the last 12 games and have lost four straight games at home including the first two of this six-game homestand. Yet, the Magic remain three games out of the Eastern Conference's final Playoff spot heading into their final game before Christmas.
Perhaps it is still a bit too early to be standings watching. Teams are still figuring themselves out and still trying to find their identities. None moreso than the Magic who fought off so many injuries at the beginning of the year.
The reality and outside expectation that the Magic would fall to the bottom of the Eastern Conference has come true through the first month and a half of the season. That is not how the internal expectations go. Players like Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis take losses personally and it hurts them. Regardless of how poor the Eastern Conference is playing, these guys are competitors.
So with the Playoffs in sight, these veterans have more impetus to keep fighting and make something of this season, even if nobody outside the Magic locker room believes it can happen. Arron Afflalo put words to this belief after the Magic's disappointing loss to the Kings on Saturday (h/t Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel):
"It ain't going to get there. I can assure you of that. It's not going to get there. We're not going to have a season where it's out-of-hand and we're not competitive anymore. I don't really care too much about the East being weak or whatever. It's an opportunity for us to move ahead.
We haven't been playing well from the win-loss perspective, but the reality is we're four or five games out of a comfortable spot in the playoffs. So, if that's what this season calls for, that's how I'm going to approach it. So, it won't get out of hand. There's no reason for it to get out of hand.
The theme for the Magic after that loss was not to let this losing stretch spiral any further out of control. Orlando went on its first 10-plus-game losing streak at about this time last year officially knocking them out of Playoff contention and cementing the reality of being a basement dweller.
Afflalo certainly does not want to experience that again. He always had much higher expectations for this team. So too did Glen Davis who stated very early on that with there is no way this team should not win enough game to qualify for the Playoffs in the East. Even he could not have foreseen the East being this bad and this bunched up.
As Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post notes, much of the focus in practice Sunday was about keeping this group together and positive to break out of this losing streak.
That is something that falls on veterans like Davis, Afflalo and Jameer Nelson. Davis praised Vaughn's ability to keep the group together and upbeat despite the long losing stretches.
That also sounds like a team with goals more focused on the long-term beyond the individual season rather than the short-term, immediate gratification of a Playoff berth.
There are still a ton of games to play and the Playoffs are a long way away. The Magic could put together some wins and make a push for the postseason (either accidentally or on purpose — I tend to believe the players on the court want to win). Of course, to do that, it will take better execution over a 48-minute game.
Performances like Saturday night's will not do it.