What the Heart and Hustle Orlando Magic can teach this year’s team

Michael Carter-Williams has become a catalyst of energy for the Orlando Magic as they try to map themselves out after the trade. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Carter-Williams has become a catalyst of energy for the Orlando Magic as they try to map themselves out after the trade. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford is quick to say whenever things are going good or bad how quickly things can change in the NBA. One good week can change a team’s fortunes and make everyone feel great. One bad week can easily send a team tumbling down the standings.

In the aftermath of the Magic’s reformative trade deadline moves, the team has had to try to find a new way to play. That has certainly been a struggle.

But in the good moments, the Magic have had, they have resembled perhaps the most popular team in franchise history. The famed Heart & Hustle team of the 1999-2000 season.

The 2021 Orlando Magic are trying to reshape their identity. They can get a lot of lessons from another underdog bunch, the beloved Heart & Hustle Magic of 2000.

That team was all frenetic energy as the group of cast offs brought together merely for their expiring contracts and the cap space they would create would open the door for the team to chase after three big free agents.

Almost every pundit predicted that team to finish with fewer than 20 wins and dead last in the league. Those predictions were hung on the team’s bulletin board and used for motivation.

Led by Darrell Armstrong and Bo Outlaw, the Magic could not score a ton and also posted the fourth-worst offensive rating in team history (please note: they were still 22nd in the league!).  But they were incredible defensively ranking in the top-10.

That ultimately led to a 41-41 record with the team just missing out on the playoffs by two games (eliminated officially in the penultimate game of the season).

That group had no dominant scorer with Darrell Armstrong turning in his best scoring season with 16.2 points per game. They still found other guys who could score, but it was always a balanced effort. Everything had to be perfectly in place.

What made that team successful was that it found its identity quickly and really pressed it. They were a frenetic defensive team that outhustled everyone they faced. Teams would often comment about whether they played with that energy every night. It took a lot of teams by surprise and they struggled to match it.

As the Magic are learning this year after the trade deadline, effort really does get a team halfway there. Being able to play at a consistently high energy every night will allow teams to catch groups sleeping through a random Tuesday. Orlando took advantage of that.

But there is still a lot about the 2000 team that gets lost to history. There was plenty of struggle and there were plenty of nights where the team’s lack of talent hurt them.

Orlando had a stretch where the team lost 13 of 14 games including an eight-game losing streak in January. The Magic lost only one game in that stretch by more than 20 points, speaking to how competitive this team was every night. But they could struggle to finish games with their lack of offensive talent.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

They had another five-game losing streak later in the season. What really got them back into the playoff chase was a seven-game win streak in April that helped them peak above .500. One good stretch is still enough to change fortunes in the Eastern Conference.

The Magic used their energy to ensure their competitiveness throughout the season.

If there is is any lesson for the Magic to take from that 2000 Magic team, it is this. Playing hard can overcome a lot of factors in the league — whether it is a talent deficit or a poor offense.

That team played like a .500 team and earned every bit of the accolades they got that season.

This year’s Magic team to finish the season is facing the same problems. They are clearly facing a talent deficit and need to rely on their energy to make it up.

The 2000 team obviously had a training camp — there was an in-season trade sending out Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Chris Gatling to Denver for veteran Ron Mercer — to pick up all of its principles and get organized from the start.

Of course, all those players got sacrificed to the goal of clearing cap room and trying to chase the stars the Magic pursued in the offseason.

This year’s Magic team is cleary struggling some with the lack of experience. They have relied heavily on rookies and young players wile putting a team together on the fly. That disorganization has been fairly clear and the team has let is energy wane as they try to figure out how to play together.

Especially defensively, this disorganization has been abundantly clear. The Magic have a 115.8 defensive rating since the trade deadline, 26th in the league.

Orlando has to find its energy and its organization defensively if it wants to be anything like the Heart and Hustle team. Those are probably the two biggest lessons this team can learn from that group.

But the most important thing is that this team carve out its identity.

Early on after the trade, the Magic were spirited defensively and did a great job forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. They have a 14.3-percent turnovers forced rate since the trade deadline (13.0-percent for the season) and have scored 10.4 fast-break points per game since the trade deadline (9.8 for the season).

Orlando has to find a way to scratch out as many points as they can and use their defense to manufacture easy opportunities. This team has shown that it has to work ont he margins to make its offense work effectively enough in this era of efficient offenses. There is no mucking a game up quite like the 2000 Magic team might have been able to.

This Magic team is still finding itself after the trade deadline. They are still seeking for that thing they can hang their hat on.

But that identity is important. They are not the Heart & Hustle team. But they can learn a lot from what their effort and energy created and how that helped that team find its groove.

Next. Wendell Carter wants to impact winning. dark

There obviously is not the same advantages or time for this current group to reach those heights. But they should understand by now that the energy and effort they put into a game will be their best path to competing and winning.