Magic Relying More on Veterans
The Orlando Magic have arguably been one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA this season. While the team isn’t talked about much on a national scale, it expected to be better than it has been so far this season.
Orlando invested over $100 million into the roster and made a couple of trades leading up to the start of the offseason last year. In addition to the upgrades on the roster, they opted to hire a new head coach in Frank Vogel. He was expected to be the voice needed to guide the team back to the playoffs.
Consistency has been one of the biggest areas of concern for the Magic this season. It seems like for every step forward the team takes, they then take two steps back. For example, they won four out of five games on the road at the beginning of December but then followed that up by losing three-straight games. More recently, the Magic posted two wins over the Toronto Raptors in the past week but followed those wins with losses.
With a number of younger players on the roster in Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic among others, it’s easy to see how there have been inconsistent stretches of play. Given the mounting pressure on this group to return to the postseason, they’re beginning to rely more on their veteran group of players. Players like D.J. Augustin, C.J. Watson and Jeff Green have been counted on more in crucial situations for the Magic in recent games.
In the Magic’s win over the Raptors last Sunday, Augustin and Green combined to score 37 points off of the bench to help lead the team to a one-point win. During the win over the Raptors on Friday night, Watson tied a season-high with 18 points off of the bench, including 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“We know how to play the game,” Augustin told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve been playing for a while. A lot of us have been on winning teams so we know what it takes when we’re out there and what we need to do as a team. Just playing smart and playing how we know how to play. We got guys like Jeff, C.J. [and] myself, who know how to play, know how to make the right plays and that’s all we try to do out there and not do too much.”
As the Magic try to figure out how to get back on the right track, they’re still very much alive in the playoff race. By nature of how the bottom half of the Eastern Conference has performed collectively thus far, Orlando is just four games back of eighth place. It seems absurd to think that a team that is 20-33 is still alive in the playoff race but teams like the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks have struggled to close the door on Orlando’s playoff hopes.
“We haven’t given up on any means,” Watson said. “We’re fighting for a win every night. It’s like coach said, we just got to get some wins in a row; not just win one and then lose four in a row. We got to get some streaks – two, three, four, five wins in a row.”
While the playoffs still are within reach, Orlando has a tough upcoming stretch of games to close out the month of February. They face the Houston Rockets tomorrow night and then have games against some suddenly-hot teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, Miami HEAT and San Antonio Spurs before the All-Star break.
“We’re gonna keep fighting to the end,” Augustin said. “Anything can happen. We still have our eyes on the prize. We’re not worried about any other team right now, we’re just worried about ourselves and trying to get better.”
The next month of the season will be critical for this group. If the team can pile up some wins, it could find itself right in the playoff race while a losing streak could mean it misses out on the postseason for a fifth consecutive season.
With roughly three weeks to go until the trade deadline, the Magic are widely considered to be active in trade discussions. They must decide if they want to trade Serge Ibaka or risk losing him for nothing since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this upcoming summer. Vucevic has also been mentioned in some trade rumors recently.
The team must decide if they’re all in on this season or if it’s time to look ahead to next season and try to acquire some draft picks or younger players. It remains to be seen how this Magic roster will look in the coming weeks but expect them to be very active in trade discussions.
Watson Happy to Play Spoiler
Each offseason, players will often meet up and workout together. For Magic guard C.J. Watson, he works out in his hometown of Las Vegas at Impact Basketball.
Players like Kyle Lowry, DeMarcus Cousins, Lance Stephenson, Kyle O’Quinn and E’Twaun Moore are among the many players that will stop by Impact Basketball to get some work in during the summer months.
A picture O’Quinn posted to Instagram a few summers ago blew up on social media as it was the first look at Lowry after he lost a significant amount of weight. It was the beginning of the “Skinny Kyle Lowry” nickname. He would end up losing about 15 pounds that summer and he completely transformed his image around the NBA.
Having worked out with Lowry for quite some time now, Watson was happy to play the role of spoiler to Lowry’s Raptors twice over the past week. Watson recorded 15 points against the Raptors last Sunday and followed up that outing with a season-high 18 points on Friday night.
With the Magic up by four points in the final minutes on Friday night, Watson knocked the ball away from Lowry and led the fastbreak up the court for a lay-up that put the Magic up for good.
“I know him a little bit because we work out in the summer time together,” Watson said. “There is a little familiarity with him. It’s pretty easy to guard him.”
Since the two are friends, Watson said some trash talk was going on during the game. When he was asked if it felt better to get a steal on Lowry since the two were friends, he smiled.
“When I hit the ball, I knew he was going to be pissed when I did it,” Watson said. “It was a good feeling.”
Watson’s Magic are 2-1 against Lowry’s Raptors so far this season with one more game left to be played in Toronto on March 27.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.