Orlando Magic need to get their swagger back to build confidence

The Orlando Magic are struggling to get their swagger back as the playoff race tightens. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic are struggling to get their swagger back as the playoff race tightens. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are trying to get out of a rut and feel frustration setting in. It might take one game to get the team’s swagger back.

It is easy to read the Orlando Magic’s body language sometimes. The team gets to the good shot or gets stuck offensively and hoists a shot that cannot find the bottom of the hoop. The team lacks rhythm.

And as good opportunities go by the wayside, shoulders droop and frustration sets in.

It affects everything. The team struggles to get its offense going to make up for it. Players try to force things, digging deeper into the hole. The defensive rotations do not seem to be as sharp. The Magic are fighting to get themselves going.

It becomes a vicious cycle — a feedback loop — that kills confidence.

Confidence breeds winning and winning breeds confidence. But Evan Fournier put it more bluntly. As the team struggles and cannot find the answers it’s like, “Here we go again” (add an expletive in to start the sentence). And that only deepens the hole.

The Magic have to find their groove again.

"“I think right now, we are not playing with confidence,” Evan Fournier said after practice Sunday. “We don’t have a lot of energy. We basically need our swag back. We are trying. But we’re not doing it with that confidence. I think it is really hurting us.”"

Finding that has been difficult. The team has lost 10 of its last 12 games to slip back to 22-31, the same record the team had last year.

Fournier surmised the injuries may have finally started to wear on the team. Players having to take on larger roles to make up for losses and the inconsistent lineup groups has caused some disruption to the team’s rhythm. The Magic are still a team carefully put together with each piece doing its part.

The team’s offense has been poor for most of the year. What has changed in the last 12 games is that it has affected their defense in major ways. The Magic have a 112.9 defensive rating in the last 12 games, 17th among teams’ last 12 games.

With the team struggling to score, the defensive struggles make things much worse. It is frustrating that Orlando’s only win in the last three weeks has been against the Charlotte Hornets.

Everything has been a struggle and the team again is searching for a way to simply make plays.

"“Our bigger problem offensively this year has been, similar to last year, is after the play call,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Sunday. “The flow. The read and react segment of offense where there is no play call. That’s what we’re not good at.”"

Tracking the offense has been extremely difficult for the team. Whatever designs or plans the Magic had have not quite worked out. The team is struggling to get everything going.

Seeking flow and confidence

Clifford has repeatedly said he has to do more to free up players offensively and get them in better positions to make those plays. Orlando lacks the isolation scorer to create for others and create some gravity. It has been a struggle for the Magic all year.

Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks, Clifford identified a new problem.

He said on his second watch of the game, he noticed how much the team struggled to pass the ball effectively. He noted the team did not maintain its spacing and struggled to move the ball off the dribble.

It is hard to judge too much based on the Bucks. But the Magic are a team that has to be precise offensively. And so if the team is lacking confidence that can lead to imprecision with their cuts, movements and passes.

A bad pass can throw the timing of a whole play off and allow the defense to catch up. That gives the Magic less time to create. Everything for this team is held in place and has to work in concert.

"“I think it messes up the timing of things,” Nikola Vucevic said after practice Sunday. “If you are wide open and the pass is a little off, you have to catch it and get it and kind of gather yourself. I think doing the right thing at the right moment helps a lot. It’s just something you get by working on it and doing it over and over. It’s just a very important skill in the game. When the ball moves fast, it’s very hard to defend. The ball moves much quicker than any guy can to it.”"

The Magic know how quickly things can click for this group. Orlando has had moments of brilliance this year that reminded everyone of just what this team is capable of. The team has not had enough of them for long enough to make good on that.

The playoff chase

The Orlando Magic still hold the final spot in the playoffs, still well within range of the Brooklyn Nets (two games behind) but also dangerously close to being in trouble with the Washington Wizards now back only three games for the final playoff spot.

While the Magic do not want to speak too much about the road ahead, they are plenty aware fo their playoff standing. And that makes the next two games at home heading into the All-Star Break all the more vital. The Magic wanted to enter the All-Star Break on a high note but gave away some key games to build that momentum.

The Eastern Conference is not doing much to catch them and so all the Magic have to do is take care of their own business and they will control their own destiny (there are still three upcoming matchups with the Nets remaining).

The team picked up its pace at this point last year in the schedule. And the schedule sets up for the Magic to make that run once again. The team has the second-easiest remaining schedule based on opponent win percentage.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Things are different this year. The Magic are playing from ahead and they have lacked the urgency that focused and sharpened them up last year. The attention to detail has not been the same.

But there is still time to focus in and get back to where they were last year.

"“We have to play at a higher level,” Nikola Vucevic said after Sunday’s practice. “We are in the same position as last year. Same record at the same time. It would be huge for us to get these two games and regroup over the break. These last 27-28 games we have are very important for us to make the playoffs. And if we do, hopefully, we can build momentum to take us into the playoffs.”"

To do all this will take precision in effort and execution. But it will take energy and confidence too. The Magic were at a low through 50 games last year too when they found the confidence to spark their run.

Searching for that one game

Things are not the same as last year, of course. Nobody wants to live in the past of what they did last year. And nobody wants to count on the future schedule for anything.

If Orlando is going to be successful, it needs to pull itself out of this rut. They need just one game to build up their confidence and then another to be normal again.

"“Right now, it’s really about having the right energy,” Fournier said after practice Sunday. “Really having a positive energy to bring guys with you. It’s OK to miss shots, but let’s get back on track together. We all struggle throughout the season. every team has its own struggles. It has to be done together. We have to get out of it together. We understand that it’s hard. But we understand we can do better. We just need guys to have that positive mindset.”"

The frustration has certainly set in for the team. It is a testament to the team that it has maintained a playoff spot. Previous iterations of this team might have faltered in the face of all their struggles.

But nobody is satisfied with just making the playoffs. That might be all they have to play for in the final 30 games this season.

The team is in a bad spot. It is in a low.

Next. Orlando Magic need leadership to push forward. dark

The Magic want to play their way in like they did last year. And that will take righting the ship and regaining their confidence and swagger to get there.