Orlando Magic confident they can play better and restore season

Aaron Gordon and the Orlando Magic have fallen flat this season. There is still a lot of work to do to regain their confidence. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Gordon and the Orlando Magic have fallen flat this season. There is still a lot of work to do to regain their confidence. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford kept things real simple after Friday’s loss to the LA Clippers.

There are no intangible factors to a team playing better and getting along. Any breaking with the team intrapersonally could easily be fixed by someone who could shoot 40-percent from three. The Magic are not likely to get one of those in the next few days.

The solution for the team though is fairly simple. For the Magic to get out of this rut and find their groove again — to get the one win they desperately need — they have to play better.

Clifford seemed to wish he could give some more complicated or involved answer. But the solution is simply the team has to play better.

For sure, Friday’s loss to the Clippers saw the magic play some of their worst basketball of the season. It started with the guys at the top. Nikola Vucevic scored only 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting, Aaron Gordon scored only nine points on 4-for-13 shooting and Evan Fournier had only eight points on 3-for-13 shooting.

Playing better is seemingly an understatement. The Magic are not winning against anyone if their three best players are performing this poorly and inefficiently.

The Orlando Magic’s answers are surprisingly simple: they need to play better. But the season is still slipping away as the team tries to find confidence in itself again.

The Magic are disappointed in themselves as much as anything else. They know they can and must play better to achieve their goals. And that is on them reaching their potential.

"“We know we’re a good team,” Gordon said after practice Saturday. “We know we’re capable of competing with anybody in the league. We’ve just got to strap in on defense and get our offense going a little bit.”"

But the Magic so far have not reached that level. Their prospects look pretty grim.

The team ranks 28th in offensive rating (104.8 points per 100 possessions) and 20th in defensive rating (111.0 points allowed per 100 possessions). The team’s -6.2 net rating is 27th in the league.

Quite simply, with more than a quarter of the season completed, the Magic are playing as one of the worst teams in the league. Continue this way, and they will surely sink toward the bottom of the standings.

Right now, the Magic’s record is outperforming its statistical output. And everyone sees a more difficult schedule on the horizon. This is an opportunity the Magic are squandering.

The Eastern Conference has been forgiving enough to keep the team in the playoff race.

The Magic at 8-12 are 10th in the Eastern Conference. As poorly as they played, the team is still capable of making the playoffs, holding the final spot in the play-in tournament. The Orlando Magic trail the sixth-place Atlanta Hawks by 2.5 games.

This is all to say, the Magic still have plenty of time to make up ground as much as they could fall down the standings. But it is less about what other teams are doing and more about what the Magic are doing.

They can take that next step and reclaim their potential. But it is all on them.

"“That’s part of my job,” Clifford said after practice Saturday. “We’re good enough to win. But we’re not going to win 50 games. I think the point is and we talked about it last night after the game and today, there are always ways you can get better in the NBA.”"

Clifford remains the optimist too. He noted the team was 9-11 last year and had its share of blowout losses — although not as many or any as bad as the ones they have faced this year.

But this year is different. And even Clifford knows that.

He said the difference this year is they are not as committed on the defensive end. And it is simple things like getting the defense set, rebounding and protecting the paint. All those numbers are uncharacteristically poor for this team.

The defense overall is poor. But the Magic are also ninth in defensive rebound rate (although Clifford has always distrusted that stat) and 24th in opponents point in the paint (they were ninth last year) and 16th in fast-break points allowed (they were fourth last year).

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

These are not numbers that bode well for the Magic. They are all things they have to fix. And whether they are able to fix them is going to be on them.

Clifford is 100-percent right, the Magic simply have to play better and they have to believe they can be better.

"“I think a belief in how you’re playing and what you can achieve and what kind of team you can become, I don’t think there is anything more important than that,” Clifford said after practice Saturday. “It’s a different year. There are more mental challenges involved in this with the pandemic, the testing, the way we are doing everything. The reality is the teams that handle it the best mentally will have the best chance to do well on game night also.”"

The season has definitely already started to wear on the team. There are plenty of excuses for the Magic’s poor play.

Injuries have completely gutted the roster of several key players. The injury to Markelle Fultz especially gutted the team and took an emotional toll.

The pandemic season has created a never-ending schedule with little practice time and ability to work to get things right. The team’s lack of organization on both ends can certainly be partially attributed to the inability to get a good practice in to harden the team’s principles and cement new concepts or adjustments.

But that should not excuse the team’s poor play. They are missing on things they have been good at for the last two years — with or without Jonathan Isaac. And that is on them to fix it.

Right now the team is looking for any sign of confidence and belief they can do it.

"“I think it was just overall spirit,” Gordon said after practice Saturday. “Our energy, uplifting each other, playing with each other and our whole mentality were just in higher spirits. That helps build our momentum and gives us a little bit of luck as well. It’s on us. We’ve got to bounce back and we’ll start stringing them together here soon.”"

Time is running out though. The team already lost an opportunity on a four-game homestand. They have another string of home games this week after Sunday’s short trip to Tampa and then a trip out West looming.

This Magic team knows how quickly a season can get lost. And this season does feel like it is slipping away.

Next. Orlando Magic First Quarter MVP: Nikola Vucevic is demanding a lot. dark

Whether they can get a firm grip on their team though will depend on the team committing itself back to its principles and playing better themselves.