The Orlando Magic are trying to reclaim what they lost from the beginning of the season when injuries knocked them off their perch.
Remember before the season started and the optimism surrounding this year’s Orlando Magic team? Remember when the team started the season by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road and San Antonio Spurs at home? Do you remember when they had the best record in the NBA and the Eastern Conference?
I do not blame you if you do not. It feels as though it has been an eternity since the Magic were turning heads and on top of the NBA.
Injuries have ravaged this team and totally blown this season to pieces. The worst part, the worst injuries have happened at the worst times for the Magic.
Each individual injury has been disastrous for the Magic in one way or another. And the record has shown that.
In fact, the only player to appear in every game for the Magic this year is Bismack Biyombo.
As the injury bug has progressed throughout the team, the record has plunged with it. The Magic now sit at the bottom of the league. They have lost 16 of their last 17 games and 27 of their last 32.
Having not been at full strength since the season opener on October 18 against the Miami Heat, it leads to the question, what would this team be like if it was at full strength?
If you watched the first game of the season, this Magic team pushed the tempo, got out on the fast break and had great ball movement.
The team also did a great job rotating on defense and guarded the paint fairly strong. And this was not attributed only to the starters. The bench provided a significant boost to the team too.
The early wave of injuries did not let the team falter. They kept the momentum going.
Another factor that helped the Magic early on in the season was their high shooting percentage and shot selection.
The Magic were able to find their shooting form and light it up from all over the court early on in the season. We had a very strong feeling this lights-out shooting would not last for the whole 82-game season.
And it did not.
This helped lead to the Magic losing some games. They crashed to Earth, as expected.
But the argument could be made that the team would be performing a lot better if the team were not suddenly beset with injury. If the Magic were at full strength or even only had one or two injuries, the team would be in much better shape. Not at the bottom of the standings.
The injuries have really hurt the Magic in two places that could have been strengths for this team throughout the year.
The first was the chemistry of the players on the floor.
This is the first year since Jacque Vaughn, the Magic have had the same coach for consecutive seasons. The Magic’s core has also been together for a number of years now.
This led to belief leading into the season the Magic would have some on-court chemistry, especially within their core group. While there were early signs of this at the beginning of the season, injuries quickly put any progress to an abrupt halt.
With all of starting lineup from opening night suffering injuries at some point this year. With most of them suffering injuries that have kept them out for long periods of time, there has been no opportunity for team growth.
The continuous rotation of new players into the lineup has caused a struggle for the team to develop any strong chemistry. Or build consistency to develop toward winning.
The other aspect the Magic were really hopeful of going into the year was the bench.
The play of the Magic’s bench last year was really sub-par. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond made it a point in the offseason to bolster the Magic bench. Many Magic fans were optimistic about better performance consistently throughout the year from the Magic bench.
Again at the start of the year, the Magic bench played well. Seemingly having little to no drop off from the play of the starters and providing a solid defensive unit that was hard for opposing teams to score on.
But as the injury bug hit many of the wing players, the depth of the bench started to vanish. This was a big blow to the team as they were forced to call up players from the Lakeland Magic in the G-League team to fill the void. They had to ask their roster players to do too much.
With no solid bench, no depth and shaky chemistry all year long, it is no wonder the Magic have been on a downward spiral.
There is some hope that as more players return from injury the team will start to resemble that team from before.
The Magic know they can play better than what they show. They believe they have a run in them. At the very least, they believe they can end this season positively.
But is it too little too late? Can they still make a run?
The Playoffs are a very long shot. The Magic would need to go on an incredible winning tear to make it that far up the standings. Not to mention climb over every team in the Eastern Conference to get to that point.
These are questions that will take time to answer. We have to see how the team implements injured players back into the rotation. And even after implementing the players who can come back, the Magic still have voids in Jonathan Issac and Terrance Ross who may not return this season.
While the ending of the season may not turn out the way Magic fans would have liked or expected, we can always look back on the team at the beginning. The team that was at the top of the East and think about what could have been had this team stayed healthy.