No rest for weary Orlando Magic with difficult three-game homestand

Terrence Ross and the Orlando Magic return home to face a three-game gauntlet with no room for rest. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Terrence Ross and the Orlando Magic return home to face a three-game gauntlet with no room for rest. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic return home from the season’s longest road trip with a difficult three-game homestand that will help set up their run toward the Playoffs.

Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross was happy to be home. But it still felt like the road.

The team arrived home Monday evening after a win over the Charlotte Hornets and got the day off Tuesday to recuperate from the season-long six-game, 12-day road trip. It was a chance in some respects to reset the battery.

It is still just one day. Life moves on. And Terrence Ross had the house to himself with his wife running errands and his children in school for the day. It was good to be in his own bed, he said, but it still felt a bit like living on the road.

Such is the way with the NBA schedule, an unrelenting (albeit perhaps a bit easier than in years past) gauntlet through 30 cities in the course of seven months before the playoffs even begin.

The Magic passed the midpoint of that schedule while they were on the trip West and they returned home to face a brutal gauntlet in the Oklahoma City Thunder (25-19) on Wednesday, the Boston Celtics (28-14) and the LA Clippers (31-13) on Sunday. The stretch ends with a back-to-back Sunday against the LA Clippers and a puddle jump back on the road Monday to face the Miami Heat (30-13) before the team can take a break (their next game is Saturday at home against the Heat before another week-long road trip to the Northeast).

There is no rest for the weary. Every game remains an opportunity to get better and begin that push toward the end of the season. And that seems to be where the focus is as the Magic navigate this tough stretch.

"“I don’t want to say the toughest,” Ross said after shootaround Wednesday on the team’s difficult schedule. “Some people are tired. This is a time to take advantage of that and make a hard push before the break comes.”"

Every team will have to go through stretches in the schedule exactly like this one.

But with just two weeks before the trade deadline and three weeks before the All-Star Break, there is certainly some heightened tension and certainly increased focus on the sprint toward the end of the season.

Everyone is trying to make their move and get through their schedule and all the fatigue that comes from such a long season. The playoffs are on the horizon and teams are beginning to gear up for those important games.

The Magic have perhaps not played to their fullest potential. In some respects, it feels like Orlando is still seeking consistency. Injuries have certainly played a role in that, but every team has to fight through injuries at some point in the season.

As things currently stand, Orlando sits in seventh in the Eastern Conference. The Orlando Magic are two games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for seventh and, more importantly, five games ahead of the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot.

Of course, the Magic do not need a reminder they were 5.5 games back on Jan. 31 last year. FiveThirtyEight currently gives the Magic a 94-percent chance of making the playoffs. But nobody is resting on their laurels.

The focus for Orlando, especially getting through this difficult schedule is on themselves and improving for that playoff stretch.

"“We’ve come a long way but we’ve still got that much more to go,” Ross said after Wednesday’s shootaround. “We’re halfway and it’s time to take another step and improve a little bit more. [We need] just a little more consistency on both ends. Just find a way to close out games, win games and get some momentum going.”"

That task starts with the Thunder on Wednesday.

Oklahoma City is hurting a bit with both Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel questionable with ankle injuries. That could force the Thunder to play more small ball, going 5-out with Mike Muscala or even Danilo Gallinari getting minutes at center. It could end up being a difficult game for the Magic to go big with Khem Birch at power forward.

The game will be a test of the team’s pick-and-roll defense. Oklahoma City has multiple ball handlers and elite pick-and-roll players in Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder.

The Thunder rank eighth in the league with 0.94 points per possession when the ball handler works a pick and roll and fifth in the league when the roll man works the pick and roll with 1.23 points per possession, according to’s tracking statistics.

Together, the Thunder score 1.00 points per possession on pick and roll plays.

Coach Steve Clifford noted a lot of this is because of their skilled pick-and-roll ball handlers along with screeners who both roll hard to the rim and can pop. They will test every facet of the Magic’s pick and roll defense. Even if Oklahoma City is without two of its key players.

"“Not only is it different from the standpoint that you can’t say the bigs are always going to do this and the guards are always going to do this,” Clifford said after the team’s shootaround Wednesday. “But you have to deal with all three of those guards who are all terrific pick-and-roll players and individual offensive players. You are going to have different coverages based on what the screener does.”"

The Magic, for their part, rank second in the league defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers, giving up 0.79 points per possession, and ninth in the league defending pick-and-roll roll men, giving up 1.05 points per possession, according to’s tracking statistics.

In all, Orlando gives up 0.87 points per possession on pick and rolls. It is a linchpin of their defense.

Still, the Magic struggle guarding 5-out sets and their coverages have to be tight to cover the Thunder if they stay small and do not have Adams or Noel available. Orlando will have to be on point defending the 3-point line and protecting the lane, avoiding any switches where Nikola Vucevic or Khem Birch get caught defending one of those guards.

The focus for the Magic is on themselves and how they need to defend these teams.

It has been an up-and-down year for the Magic. But they are still right in the position their aimed to be at for the beginning of the season despite those injuries and inconsistencies.

But this is now starting to get to the stretch run. The team is coming downhill, so to speak, as the season turns toward the playoffs.

This Magic team has weathered a lot of storms. But now it is time to lock in and get playoff ready.

"“I wouldn’t say a calm, but there is an understanding of it,” Ross said after shootaround Wednesday. “This is the time you’ve got to make your next step. You can tell the teams that get better and the teams that don’t. You definitely want to be a team that gets better.”"

If the Magic want to be one of those teams that gets better. It will start with picking up some wins now that the team is back home and able to compose themselves. Even with tough opponents, the Magic have to continue solidifying their playoff position.

Orlando Magic struggle to hold onto leads. dark. Next

The road continues on. . .