Injuries have derailed Orlando Magic’s promising start

The Orlando Magic are struggling to find their way as they have struggled with injuries. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic are struggling to find their way as they have struggled with injuries. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic look like an injured soldier.

After starting the season 6-2 and shooting up to second in the Eastern Conference, the team has fallen apart mainly due to multiple injuries to key starters on the roster.

The Orlando Magic started off the season hotter than almost any team in the NBA not named the Philadelphia 76ers or the Los Angeles Lakers. They were the last remaining undefeated team. And even at 6-2 seemed like they had achieved the hot start they sought.

Staying at the top of the standings was probably not sustainable for the team. They still had several creases to flatten and figure out. But the team was playing well. The franchise’s bet on continuity seemed to be the right one for this strange pandemic season.

That came to a complete halt in a matter of a regular-season game after an injury to their starting point guard, Markelle Fultz.

Markelle Fultz’s injury halted much of the Orlando Magic’s progress. And now the team is scrambling to find its way to play again and rally for a playoff spot.

No injury hurt the Magic more than the season-ending injury to Markelle Fultz, the team’s starting point guard and arguably the best player on the roster besides Nikola Vucevic. Fultz tore his ACL in a weird-looking play earlier in the year in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Before the injury Fultz was having a career year, averaging 12.9 points per game and 5.4 assists per game. He led the Magic near the top of the Eastern Conference mountaintop. Now the Magic look like a team with an uncertain future, destined for a lottery pick in the 2021.

That injury left a gaping hole on the roster and the team is still figuring out how to solve it. Orlando immediately went on a six-game losing streak that featured three losses by 20 points or more. The team looked listless the idea of playing for the playoffs seemed laughable.

Fortunately, the Eastern Conference, while improved at the top, is still a mess in the middle. The Magic at 7-8, following Wednesday’s game-winning shot from Cole Anthony, are ninth in the Eastern Conference. Teams 6-12 are separated by only one game.

As coach Steve Clifford pointed out in press availabilities Tuesday and Wednesday, it does not matter how the team got to its record. It is there now and has plenty to fight for and play for.

The Magic still have hope to make the Playoffs if they get great play from the remaining players on the roster. The team was eager to welcome back Evan Fournier in Wednesday’s win and he clearly made an impact. The team hopes to get Michael Carter-Williams back soon too. The team is slowly becoming whole again.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But the numbers still are not looking great for the Magic. The team is no guarantee to make the playoffs and they certainly have to play better to get over the hump.

As things stand statistically, the Magic rank 28th in the league in offensive rating (103.9 points per 100 possessions) and rank 18th in defensive rating (109.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). The team’s -5.9 net rating is 27th in the league.

The Magic’s statistical profile is still like one of the worst teams in the league as the league nears the quarter pole of the season. And they may yet become a Lottery team if the losses keep piling up.

For now, the only number that matters is the team’s record at 7-8. But something clearly has to change and the team has to improve.

The Magic have a long season ahead of them with injuries to key starters in the starting lineup and now the organization faces questions like, “Do they need to add another player?” or “Can they win 30 games with this roster?” These are questions that have developed after the injuries.

Undoubtedly, the injuries have changed the team’s overall expectations tremendously.

The Magic have turned into a shell of themselves because the injuries have placed the organization in a hole. There was not a backup plan for the unfortunate situation. Now the team is looking in every direction to turn the season back on a winning trend without winning players.

This is a major problem for an organization that was slowly climbing out of mediocrity and building winning ways thru the draft and not thru free agency. Orlando’s progress has undoubtedly stagnated because of these key injuries. The team is again hoping to just barely scratch their way into the playoffs.

It is hard for any player to lead without the necessary resources, let alone a player on the brink of stardom like Vucevic.  A superstar player has eluded the Magic’s roster ever since Dwight Howard left in 2012, which is almost a decade.

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Now Steve Clifford has to find a way to win without some of his starters, which may be the hardest job in the NBA.