Orlando Magic still determined to break losing streak

Michael Carter-Williams and the Orlando Magic will face a daunting road in the next few weeks. But they are optimistic they can pull through. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Carter-Williams and the Orlando Magic will face a daunting road in the next few weeks. But they are optimistic they can pull through. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

What does a team do in the midst of an eight-game losing streak? How does a team respond to that frustration and those defeats? Especially when the team expects so much of themselves and knows what they are capable of?

These are the questions a team has to answer as they try to find something to play for the rest of the season. These are the questions the Orlando Magic have not had to answer for the last two years when they flipped their expectations and made their push for the playoffs.

The Magic are trying to ask themselves what they do with the rest of their season. More specifically: What they do with each day?

A hard day of practice has renewed the Orlando Magic’s spirit as optimism still abounds despite a season-long eight-game losing streak and a tough schedule ahead.

Orlando is trying to stay positive in the face of the longest losing streak the Magic have faced since a nine-game losing streak in Dec. 2017. That came on the heels of another nine-game losing streak as that injury-riddled season unraveled quickly.

"“Everybody is positive,” Michael Carter-Williams said after practice Tuesday. “Of course, we all know we’re on a bit of a losing streak. Everybody’s heads are high. We’re positive. We are doing our best to get back on the right track. That’s important. You can’t focus on the games you’ve already lost. We have to focus on the task ahead of us.”"

That task is a tall one. Orlando still faces one of the most difficult schedules in the league. And the team is about to enter one of the most difficult phases of that schedule.

The trade deadline will occur in the meantime — just before the team heads out for a difficult West Coast trip — and so a lot of uncertainty is at play.

The Magic’s task though is not to focus on what they cannot control or worry about the schedule. It is about getting better each day. It is about the next game.

With a day off for treatment and the first full practice, the team has had in some time — with 13 available players! — the Magic are optimistic and determined to break through yet again.

"“Our guys want to win,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Tuesday. “Obviously, there is a level of frustration. You watch the film, we did a lot of good things the other night. We’ve just got to stop turning the ball over. We had a chance to win the game. There were a number of things that happened. But we have the right attitude. We are about to embark on about as difficult a NBA schedule with as difficult travel as you’re going to find. It all starts with the right approach. I thought our guys were great today.”"

The Magic have played better defense in the last several games. The team posted a defensive rating better than 110 points allowed per 100 possessions for the first time since the team’s three-game win streak last month

The Orlando Magic posted a 103.0 defensive rating in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Heat. Even in the blowout loss Friday to the San Antonio Spurs, the Orlando Magic gave up only 107.2 points per 100 possessions.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That was more than enough to win. The team’s lack of offensive force and turnovers led to losses in all three games. The Magic needed sharper execution if they were going to pull out the wins.

"“In the three games here since we came back, our defense has been really good,” Clifford said after practice Tuesday. “In these last three games, we would be top-10 in defense. But that’s where it’s going to start for our team. Even the one game in Miami, the numbers didn’t end up being that good but a lot of that was fouling. I think that’s positive. We’ve got to continue to find ways to be more inside-out. Getting the ball going toward the basket has been a big problem for us all year. That’s one of the things we’ve got to continue to work on.”"

Orlando at least seems to feel like it is close to breaking out of this losing streak.

And a real day of practice helped. Both Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon participated in the team’s practice including the live scrimmage portions. Again the Magic had a full roster of 13 players to practice including two-way player Karim Mane, who rejoined the team after the Lakeland Magic’s championship run in the G-League bubble.

Coaches did not have to jump into drills to give players a bit of rest and even competition. That should not be forgotten through all of this.

To be sure, these are the kinds of losing streaks that knock teams out of the playoff picture fully and finally. It is tough to come back from them — even if the Eastern Conference is doing its best to keep Orlando in the race.

The Magic sit 4.5 games out of the final spot in the play-in tournament. The urgency is certainly high for the team to make that playoff push. They are not giving up on that dream.

But the future is still a bit daunting. The schedule, as Clifford alluded, is about to get very tough.

Thursday’s game against the New York Knicks will be the last game against a team with a losing record until April 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Every team until then is a playoff team.

On top of that is the funky scheduling that follows.

The Magic travel to New York to play the Knicks on Thursday. They then face a back-to-back at home in Orlando against the Brooklyn Nets before traveling back north Sunday to face the Boston Celtics. Their West Coast trip begins in Los Angeles, travels back east to New Orleans and then heads to the Rockies to finish with the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz.

It is not easy sledding right now both because of the teams the Magic are playing and because of the travel the team is facing.

Any hopes of making the playoffs might get snuffed out here. The trade deadline sits in the middle of it all.

That is hanging in the future. But the firs tthing the Magic have to do is pick up a win and break this losing streak.

By all accounts, the Magic are focused on doing that. They feel they are taking steps in the right direction and not losing focus on their goals.

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A few days of practice can work to renew confidence. But the team will have to prove this optimism is warranted on the court.