Injuries at the root of Orlando Magic’s struggles, disappointing start

Aaron Gordon has been hampered by injuries throughout the season and that has held him and the Orlando Magic back. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon has been hampered by injuries throughout the season and that has held him and the Orlando Magic back. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have not gotten off to the start they wanted and now they are searching for their way to play. Injuries have not helped.

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon sat in front of his locker in the back rooms of the FiservForum on Saturday. He had taken himself out of the game in the third quarter after he said his Achilles locked up on him. Aaron Gordon kept trying, but it was not enough.

He had tried to loosen it up before the game and play through it, but could not pull through. Gordon was struggling clearly, shooting just 2 for 9. Something was lingering. It had been for a while.

Gordon knew something was not right. That is why this competitor took himself out of the game. And why after the game he suggested he needed to take some time off to get his body right.

Gordon did not play in Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks. A MRI revealed no structural damage to his Achilles. Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel reports team officials believe the soreness Gordon was experiencing was a byproduct of the sprained ankle he suffered in late November.

The injury is officially listed as ankle soreness, eliminating anything to do with his Achilles fortunately. But Gordon’s timetable for a return remains uncertain. It feels like the team will be cautious for the time being.

Gordon is not alone. It has been a season of these false starts for everyone.

After a season where the Magic had some incredible injury luck — no player in their top six played fewer than 76 games and the biggest injury was to the largely ineffective rookie Mohamed Bamba — the Magic are facing some incredible injury challenges.

There have not been the major absences — Nikola Vucevic missed 11 games with a sprained ankle as the most prolonged absence and now Al-Farouq Aminu is out with a torn meniscus for an extended time — but there have been little injuries throughout the year so far.

Gordon has faced the most injuries. He got popped in the jaw during the third preseason game and never really regained his offensive rhythm after a strong start to the preseason. Then he suffered a sprained ankle on Nov. 20 and missed three games.

He has struggled to find his rhythm since then — averaging 13.3 points per game and shooting 39.0 percent from the floor in 15 games. Perhaps coming back too soon or not waiting to be 100-percent or reaggravating the injury somehow slowed him down. Maybe Gordon has not had completely lift on his shot and that has thrown off his timing from the perimeter.

Still, this has been an ongoing thing for Gordon holding him back specifically.

Gordon hinted at some discomfort and the fact he was not completely healthy after a nine-point 4-for-14 performance against the Denver Nuggets a few weeks ago.

The whole season for Gordon has seemingly been spent trying to get himself healthy and trying to get himself right. A year that was supposed to be his coming-out party has instead seen him start and stop.

Would this explain his poor season so far? Would this explain everyone else’s season so far?

Coach Steve Clifford is not buying it. Injuries might have slowed the team down some, but the team’s appraoch has not been at the level it was last year.

"“We’re playing better,” Clifford said before Monday’s game against the Hawks. “Actually our offense has been getting better and better. We just haven’t defended. That gets as much to mentality and mindset, understanding who you are. These guys start over every year just like we do. It took us a while last year. And obviously what you hope is they come back and understand why you played well. That hasn’t necessarily been the case.”"

Certainly, the lack of consistency has been a big problem for the team. Defense takes a lot of togetherness and chemistry to work. The Magic having so many players in and out of the lineup with little injuries even dating back to the preseason has thrown the team off.

The team has been wildly inconsistent offensively. But the team’s wild swings defensively have been a much bigger problem.

It is easy to see how wild the swings in the Magic’s defensive rating have been through the first 32 games:

The Magic started off strong, but they were already struggling before the first round of injuries hit on Nov. 20.

Orlando has seen some wild spikes in their attention to detail defensively. What should be a relatively straight line around the 100-line is instead full of wild swings.

This chart of the Magic’s offensive and defensive ratings over time shows both how inconsistent the offense is and how much the defense has struggled to find its footing.

Looking deeper at it though, you can pinpoint where the team finds its rhythm. It was four games after Gordon returned that the Magic started to show some life defensively — that is until James Harden blew that up.

The same could be said for Nikola Vucevic’s return. Four games after his return, when the team came home from its West Coast road trip, the Magic started playing better defensively.

Some of that was short-lived. The team has faced varied levels of opponents during that time too. The Magic still have difficulty playing their best against good teams, a noted problem throughout this season.

If there is one thing Clifford preaches most, it is consistency. He knows that if the team plays its best consistently, it can beat anybody.

With players in and out of the lineup and recovering and searching for their rhythm, it is hard for the team to find consistency. As much as anything, this has hindered the Magic. They just have not been healthy enough long enough to get their rotations set and perform at the playoff level they know they are capable of playing.

Then again, Clifford is also right. The team should be able to push past this. They have often not played at the intensity and attention to detail defensively to be what they were last year.

Next. Orlando Magic must continue to be patient. dark

Some good health and consistency together would not hurt.