The Orlando Magic have had a busy schedule since the All-Star Break. They have no excuse now as practice gave them a chance to reset.
Coach Steve Clifford does not go home and watch NBA basketball. That is on doctor’s orders.
He said after his health scare last year his doctors asked him not to bring work home in the evening to make sure he gets some sleep. Clifford said he instead checks in early in the morning to watch film of the next opponent or important games and prepare for the day ahead. His evenings are filled watching TV, movies and Georgetown Hoyas basketball.
Clifford said he might glance at the scores before going to bed, but nothing more detailed than that.
That glance might be getting longer. And, do not tell his doctors, but there might come a time when Clifford is scoreboard watching like the rest of the NBA world. It is getting to be that time of year and every moment and every game is important for him and his team.
Of course, the first thing that has to happen is the Orlando Magic have to take care of their own business.
Trailing the Miami Heat for the final Playoff spot by one game, the Orlando Magic know they have ground to make up. They know they have an opportunity to do so with their upcoming schedule too.
But they also know it will not be easy and they will need their focus. And so Wednesday’s off day and Thursday’s practice became a welcome site. It was a chance for the Magic to reset their battery some and sharpen up for a Playoff push that is well underway.
"“It’s great just for little things,” Nikola Vucevic said. “You aren’t going to do anything huge in these practices. But it is little things that you go away from during the season as you don’t have much time to practice. Whenever you have time, I think it’s good.”"
This is a time to reinforce things on the court, sharpening up coverages and reminding the team what has to happen for success. It is also a good time to add in some work on individual games and hit the weight room to regain strength and endurance.
Practice — especially when it is at home — is a chance to hit the reset button.
The Magic need it because they are in a rough spot right now. They are 3-4 since the All-Star Break and have seen their offense come back to earth and their defense play inconsistently. The Magic are still eighth in the league in defensive rating since the break but have a negative net rating.
The last two games — the Orlando Magic’s first two-game losing streak since Jan. 27 and Jan. 29 against the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder — saw the team especially struggle defensively. The team did not seem to snap to attention on that end until the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers.
That gave the team a chance to win. But it came down to making or missing shots and the Magic missed shots and had several lapses in execution on both ends as the game wound down.
Clifford still lauded his team’s effort and the team’s defensive effort in the second half. It was a positive, but the team needs to win to keep pace.
That is where practice came in. It was a chance to work on some things and right the ship. Something the team has not had much opportunity to do since the All-Star Break.
"“It’s just getting back to what we do,” Aaron Gordon said. “It’s setting a foundation. We have been doing it for a whole year now. It’s recovering what it takes to win.”"
The Magic have needed to resolidify that foundation.
Clifford acknowledged the Magic’s stretch coming out of the All-Star Break was particularly grueling. The played seven games in 12 days with no more than a single day between games. While every team in the league has to go through those stretches of the schedule, some slippage and fatigue is something to expect.
Aaron Gordon said fatigue was certainly a factor in that stretch. He said they could feel the weight in their legs. That might explain the sluggish effort.
Gordon said the day off Wednesday and the practice Thursday was a good chance to regroup. And it helps that Clifford is such a strong teacher, the Magic can get a lot done in one practice day.
Lighter schedule, more practice time
Orlando will have plenty of that practice time down the stretch.
The Magic have played 66 games already, the third most in the league. Both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat have two games in hand. The Heat hold a one-game lead over the Magic — and both teams have 30 wins. And Orlando is tied with Charlotte in the standings.
The Magic’s remaining schedule at least looks manageable on paper. It is not only the second-easiest remaining schedule in the league according to Tankathon, but it also affords the team plenty of days between games to prepare and adjust.
Orlando will play its next eight games in 18 days. The team just finished playing seven in 12. The Magic will have two or more days between games five times in this upcoming stretch.
Fatigue was an easy and probable excuse for the team’s struggles lately. That excuse will be gone now. Orlando has no reason not to come out sharp in this next stretch of games. The Magic’s season is literally on the line now.
No easy games
Orlando has every advantage playing fewer games even to build up some cushion and make a push.
"“I think it’s an advantage,” Clifford said. “As you can see, there is no easy wins. You are either playing against another team who is playing for something or you are playing against another team that is free and easy with NBA players. For those teams, those are fun games to play. You are playing in games that are meaningful. There will be no easy games.”"
Nikola Vucevic echoed those sentiments. It is not important who the team is playing, he said, but only that the team finds a way to get wins. The results are ultimately all that matters to this group.
And it is not like the Magic have a sterling record either. Their 30-36 record is hardly one to inspire confidence. There is still a lot of work ahead.
But the Magic have their chance to reset themselves, take a deep breath and put in the work to prepare and sharpen their focus to get the job done. Everything is set up for them now to make their push.