Troy Taormina/USA TODAY
The Magic's November was seen as a potentially light one when looking at the schedule. There were 10 home games to six road games in the month.
When your team only won 20 games last year and collected the worst record in the NBA with very little roster turnover, every win is a precious one. Considering also that the Magic, now at 4-5, are one-fifth of the way to last year's win total just two weeks into the season. Even coming off a three-game losing streak — with a second half avalanche in a shaky 94-91 win over the Bucks — there are still positive signs up and down the Magic's roster.
The win over the Clippers last week sits as a reminder of how good this team can become even just this year. The loss to the Celtics Monday in Boston shows how much work there is still left to go.
"Guys believed in themselves before the season," Nikola Vucevic said after the win over the Clippers last week. "We had a rough season last year. But guys put in a lot of work over the summer. In training camp, we really worked hard and we really wanted to get better and show people we are better than they think they are."
Orlando's record and the way the team has played in the early part of the season has given rise to a small belief that this season may not be a completely lost one — if you care about wins and losses. While the goal of getting a high 2014 Draft pick makes logical sense, there is still that competitive streak in both the players and the fan base (and even management) who yearn to win.
Losing on purpose is — and should be — in no one's vocabulary.
Yet the reality seems undeniable, if the experts are to be believed. We learned last year that this Orlando team is not always willing to go along with everyone's expectations.
"I, for one, didn't do too much reading on expectations or media this summer," Arron Afflalo said. "The reality of the situation is that expectations are all just predictions. At the end of the day, we have to go out there and play the game. I really do believe the guys for the most part don't look too much into it. I think it's just fun to think about and enjoy. That's what the NBA game is about build up and enjoying matchups, but you still got to go out there and play."
The game is certainly not played on paper. And the Magic have done a good job showing the added confidence a year of experience can bring along with a familiarity that comes from playing together.
That does not guarantee a whole lot however. This is still a team learning and exploring their roles and without a true go-to star to rely on when the offense gets tough. There are guys who can do it some of the time, but even Arron Afflalo has benefited from a lot of assists this year — 58.2 percent of Afflalo's field goals made have been assisted so far this season.
This is the inherent flaw (it would seem) in this team.
That does not mean the Magic cannot find some small measure of success in the win and loss column. This team has high expectations of itself and what it can do. They have already shown that they will fight for as long as they are out on the court.
The question is now whether that will translate to wins and translate to opponents treating them as they deserve.
"Gaining respect does take some time," Afflalo said. "Players have hot moments. Teams have hot moments. I do agree that some longevity is necessary to earn the proper respect as a good team and we're only five games in. We'll keep it moving and see how long that takes."
Several Magic players said they hoped those back-to-back wins over the Nets and Clippers at home would provide a bit more respect and attention around the league.
That added attention of course comes with more difficult games as teams put more attention into the gameplan and circle the games on the crowded NBA calendar. Good teams learn to deal with that. This is still a young team learning the NBA in large part.
The team sees the confidence from that year and sees improvement. The veterans have noticed the young players' improvement from working over the summer. Everyone on the team seems hungry to do more. It has been a theme throughout the early part of the year.
The individuals got better and the team got better.
The trick though is translating that improvement into wins. That is not an easy task. Not at all an easy task.
But each win builds confidence, Jameer Nelson said. Orlando has to continue to bread that confidence. As the team wins more and plays better, the expectations for success will continue to rise. The win against the Clippers was even more notable because of what it meant. The Magic stuck together when things got rough and pulled through against a very talented team.
One the prognosticators believed was going to compete for a championship back when everyone was 0-0.
It showed Orlando's hard work is paying some dividends.
"The great thing is they're working," Jacque Vaughn said. "That's waht we've been talking about. You come to work every single day. There's nothing wrong with that approach. We'll continue that approach. What that yields, I can't guarantee anything. What I can guarantee is a hard day's work and there is nothing wrong with that."
That may not guarantee wins this year. If the Magic are playing the long-term game, then it should help produce victories down the road.
For this year? Maybe those preseason expectations could use a minor adjustment.