Orlando Magic Season Review: What Went Right — December

Dec 3, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) and forward Evan Fournier (10) celebrate after beating the Utah Jazz 103-94 at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) and forward Evan Fournier (10) celebrate after beating the Utah Jazz 103-94 at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic had everyone believing for 31 days in December. A 10-win month and Playoff dreams were running wild as the team showed off its potential.

The seeds for the Orlando Magic’s best, breakthrough, overconfidence-inducing month, were laid in November with one of the most controversial and most-discussed decisions of the season.

Following the Orlando Magic’s blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 23, Scott Skiles said he would seriously consider changing his starting lineup. What he ended up doing was moving Victor Oladipo to the bench in a move that sparked debate throughout the fan base.

The results in that moment were completely undeniable. Orlando won its next five games, the first five-game win streak since Dwight Howard was roaming the paint for the team. It worked as the team went out West and the Magic were seemingly out of the gates.

What followed was the month that raised expectations and seemed to set the Magic up for that Playoff run that would never come.

There was never going to be a time for the Magic quite like December.

In those fateful 31 days to end the 2015 calendar year, the Magic went an Eastern Conference-best 10-5, tallying their second straight winning month to start the season. They had a 104.9 offensive rating, seventh in the league, and 101.5 defensive rating, 11th in the league. Their 3.4 net rating was sixth best in the league.

For one month, the Magic were playing like a top-10 team in the league. They were talking Playoffs and had home court advantage for some time. These were discussions fans were actually having. And if this play would have kept up, there is no doubt they would have continued to be legitimate.

Everything seemed to be working at this time.

The Magic went out West and scored three wins in their five-game road trip. They trounced the Playoff-bound Charlotte Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets at home. They took advantage of a weak spot in the schedule. There were no bad losses at this time.

The Magic just did what they had to do to win.

Nikola Vucevic picked up his play to average 19.4 points per game in the month. Tobias Harris, Eflrid Payton, Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo all scored in double digits per game during that span. The Magic even used Channing Frye effectively, spreading the floor for others to attack.

Orlando was just rolling. The team was pushing the pace, scoring efficiently, and everyone was filling their roles. This was the kind of play Orlando would not see again until the end of the year.

There were signs things were slipping of course. The Magic were not going to last at this rate, and it was painfully obvious to everyone who was watching the team closely. Scott Skiles was warning about it for several weeks as the calendar began to turn.

The turning point he would say toward the end of December was a late-game collapse against the Los Angeles Clippers on the road. The Magic saw a double-digit fourth-quarter lead disappear as the defensive intensity noticeably waned and the team seemingly began relying solely on their offense.

Throughout the season this had always been a recipe for disaster too. The seeds were laid in the midst of this success. Orlando was just rolling offensively at this time. Eventually the other shoe dropped.

So too did the late-game collapses as it did in Los Angeles. Earlier in that road trip, Orlando lost a 20-point lead at Minnesota where the team had to find the resolve to pull that win out. Everyone painted that as a sign of progress. There was a close loss to Atlanta where Victor Oladipo left Kyle Korver open for the go-ahead 3-pointer and a fourth-quarter rally Dwyane Wade spearheaded at the Amway Center.

All the issues that would come up disappointingly in January were there in December. They were just masked perhaps by confidence and an offense in supreme rhythm.

In this moment, there was complete buy in on both ends of the floor. The ball moved seamlessly around the perimeter and the team attacked the gaps in the defense off the ball movement. Defensively, the team put up some road blocks and were a tough team to crack. This even with Frye and Vucevic starting.

Confidence is a funny thing. Especially for young teams. It can build up quickly, and it can disappear pretty quickly.

The Magic had everything rolling in December. There was nothing this team could do wrong during that stretch. They found the resolve to dig out wins and instill confidence. It seemed to build on itself and show everyone exactly what this team can do when it is clicking.

It would not last. Soon doubt kicked in. Inconsistency kicked in. The foundations for this team and this program were no longer solid and the team collapsed.

For one month though, the Magic had everyone believing again. They had fans ready to buy into the team, its hopes and dreams and these players. Everyone was hooked and hoping for the best.

Next: What Went Wrong: Scott Skiles

There was no better time for the Magic than December.