Orlando Magic’s December let expectations run wild

Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles greets guard Victor Oladipo (5) during the third quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles greets guard Victor Oladipo (5) during the third quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic season was a roller-coaster of a season, once on the verge of making the playoffs, end the season in disappointment. What went wrong?

Unquestionably, this season left a lot to be desired from the Orlando Magic. Once upon a time in the playoff race, only to have the season end in a downward spiral. Where did it all go wrong?

Flashback to December 2015, the Magic entered the month 9-8, riding on a three-game win streak. The streak became four, then five and, all of a sudden, the Magic were 19-13 by 2016. Scott Skiles earned Eastern Conference Coach of the Month honors. Expectations were high, and the Magic seemed playoff bound.

Then January happened. The team lost 12 of its next 14 games.

How did the Magic go from 10-5 one month to 2-12 the next?

Not only that fall, but the Magic failed to keep their winning habits from December and were not able to apply them the rest of the year. The team finished 35-47, which is an improvement, and actually what a lot of people would deem as a successful season for the Magic before the season began.

But after the Magic were on the map after their hot start, expectations rose, they received the “playoff-or-bust” label. The talk before the season about making the Playoffs no longer seemed like long-shot dreams.

And now? It is hard to figure what to make of the season. It seemed as if they should have added more to the win column. A 10-win improvement feels like a disappointment.

The Magic had the seventh best offensive rating in the league for December, at 104.9. They also had the 11th best defensive rating that month, at 101.5. So how did they go from that, to the 28th offensive rating, at 97.6 to 27th in defensive rating, at 108.2, in January?

The fact of the matter is the Magic beat the teams they were supposed to beat, and hid their real problems behind their explosive offense throughout December. The 10 wins the Magic earned in December were over teams who had an average winning percentage of .430 by the end of the season.

The Magic had their share of problems in December, the team was winning, so it was just difficult to pinpoint.

Upon further inspection, they had a hard time closing out games in December, one of the major themes for the season. The Magic gave up a 20-point lead at the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team absolutely discombobulated at the Los Angeles Clippers, giving up a double digit lead in the fourth quarter, allowing the Clippers to go on a 22-7 run and steal the win.

No one thought much of that, considering the Magic kept it close against an elite team.

Similar occurrences also happened in games against the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, where they led late and failed to close out. They also allowed the Houston Rockets to erase a 14-point deficit late in the game, although the Magic did win that contest.

Victories overshadowed all of those flaws bubbling under the surface. They were minor concerns. Everyone was seemingly caught up in the moment as the team was experiencing success again.

After suffering losing season after losing season, the turning point seemed imminent for the Magic. It was, just not the direction anyone expected the season to go.

The Magic went on to January, and the majority of their opponents that month are now playoff teams. They also lost three overtime games that month, which can do a lot to kill confidence.

The good times were gone.

Fans got off the high horse, they went from playoff expectations to who should be traded, who should be fired, etc.

These were the unfortunate growing pains.

One of the caveats with a young team is it will often have a difficult time finding consistency for 82 games. No one, with the exception of Aaron Gordon, made that next step forward in their development progression.

Sure, guys like Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic improved, but they did not take that leap forward the Magic wanted into stardom. They still do not have that guy. The guy that everyone depends on to lead the charge when things are looking grim, the guy who takes the final shot of the game.

Some would argue that guy is Oladipo, others would say it is Evan Fournier, some would even say Vucevic. The truth is none of these guys, at least yet, are capable of being the face of the franchise, and being the leader of the team.

While December was an enjoyable month for the Magic, it was only a matter of time before the Magic’s problems caught up with them.

December set a trap of high expectations. Being so used to losing the past couple seasons, and after a winning record was established for a short time, fans jumped off the losing kayak and onto the winner’s boat.

The only problem is, the boat sank, and the kayak was long gone. Leaving the Magic with something to be missed. And now only disappointment.