The Orlando Magic loss to the Philadelphia 76ers pushed the team outside of the Playoff picture, now they need a winning streak in order to eliminate a six-year Playoff drought.
Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Orlando Magic got the help they were looking for to complement Nikola Vucevic and make up for Terrence Ross‘ absence. Evan Fournier scored 25 points and Aaron Gordon added 24 points and nine rebounds. Even Jonathan Issac scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds to add to the total.
So on a night where the Magic’s role players stepped up, the team’s the post anchor and first-time NBA All-Star did not. Nikola Vucevic only scored 12 points in 33 minutes of play, including several misses down the stretch and two critical turnovers.
The odd game where Vucevic did not come to play cost the Magic in the end as the offense slacked off and the defense never quite came around. Vucevic scored eight fewer points than he averages and he needed to be there when his supporting cast ultimately did their job.
It is added to the overall inconsistency for the team since the All-Star Break. The Magic have gone 3-4 since then with some pretty impressive wins, but also some disheartening losses. They find themselves now a game out of the final Playoff spot as the charging Miami Heat have taken over the last spot for now.
Things can change quickly in the East. A few wins in a row can have the team zooming up the standings. But there is still some time left, but not much.
More than anything, something has to change with the offensive consistency of this team.
The Magic’s offense has improved. But since the All-Star Break, they have a 107.7 offensive rating, just a point per 100 possession better than their season average. Orlando is once again settling in as a bottom-10 offensive team after a surge heading into the All-Star Break.
This stretch includes below-average performances against the Cleveland Cavaliers (96.9 points per 100 possessions) and New York Knicks (104.0 points per 100 possessions). The Magic are still capable of winning when their offense struggles though. They defeated the Golden State Warriors with a 99.0 offensive rating.
The Magic’s defense has been a bigger concern especially lately. Orlando has a 108.0 defensive rating since the All-Star Break. That is still in the top 10 in the league in that span but not enough for this Magic team.
In their last three games, they have given up more than 112 points per 100 possessions in each one. It is the first time the Magic have given up more than 110 points per 100 possessions in consecutive games since Feb. 5 and 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The team certainly needs to band together on both ends right now. On offense, it feels like the team is struggling to fire on all cylinders.
In most games when Vucevic is balling out, his supporting cast never gets a chance to find an offensive rhythm, thus leaving him on an island to carry the majority of the team.
Although Vucevic is averaging 20.6 points per game and 12 rebounds per game in 2019, Amir Johnson neutralized him while Joel Embiid sat out with an injury in Tuesday’s loss. Some of it was Vucevic missing shots he normally makes. Some of it was Johnson’s reputation as a physical defender knocking Vucevic off his spot.
In the midst of a Playoff race where every game matters, the Magic need their All-Star center to give them more than just consistent effort. They need him to take over games. That is where Vucevic struggled most in Tuesday’s loss.
And the results of that setback come into sharper focus now more than ever. Consistency is what matters most at this time of year and the Magic are still seeking theirs.
The latest loss pushed the Magic back outside of the Eastern Conference Playoff picture. They now trail the Heat by one game for the final Playoff spot. Miami has two games in hand and has matched Orlando’s 30 wins this season.
Wednesday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets was even bigger. Hassan Whiteside scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds off the bench to anchor the Heat’s strong defensive effort in a 91-84 win (that also knocked the Hornets out of the Playoff position).
The Heat have now won three of four to get back into the Playoff race. Of course, that came after Miami lost nine of the team’s previous 11 games. Fortunes can change that quickly in the Eastern Conference.
Still, those losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have more significance. Orlando could have used those wins to solidify their position and make a team charging from the back from threatening their place.
Now the Magic have forced themselves in a corner and have to fight their way out to get back in control of their own destiny. They will need teams ahead of them to slip up to have a chance.
Orlando still has a favorable schedule — the team has the third-easiest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon. But the Magic have lost plenty of games already to “favorable” opponents. There is still a lot of work to do.
Maybe this could be motivational. After all, the Magic have shown they are a better team when their backs are to the walls or people are not believing in them. And they have also shown they are worse when people expect them to win. The last two weeks have proved this.
Perhaps trying to catch up to teams will bring the team the urgency and focus they need to succeed.
Now the Magic need a winning streak. The schedule is set up for them to do so. Orlando had a rough schedule after the All-Star Break with seven games in 11 days.
Now they get space between games to re-sharpen their focus and six of the next eight games at home and a five-game homestand in that stretch. The Magic play just one team with a winning record in that span — a March 25 date with the 76ers at Amway Center.
They need to take advantage of this stretch. They need to rebuild confidence. And they need to put their inconsistent past behind them.