Orlando Hoping to Rebound in February
After securing the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference through the end of December, the Orlando Magic tied the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves for fewest wins during the month of January.
Including last night’s 119-114 win over the Boston Celtics, the Magic posted just two victories in 14 tries last month. The team’s other win came against one of the worst teams in the league in the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 8.
A 100-93 win over the Nets on Dec. 30 brought the Magic to fourth place in the East, but the team has been in a free fall ever since.
Among the many disappointments for the Magic during January included another blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a blown 15-point fourth quarter lead against the Charlotte Hornets and a loss to the last-placed Philadelphia 76ers.
Many of the things the team was doing well over the course of the first two months of the season had fallen off drastically in January. Orlando had the 14th-best offensive rating in the league in 2015 and was holding opponents to 100.3 points per 100 possessions, which was 10th in the league.
Once the calendar flipped to 2016, the Magic have posted the third-worst offensive rating and fourth-worst defensive rating (giving up 108.2 points per 100 possessions).
“The problem with what I’m about to say is it makes it seem like I’m saying we don’t have any talent [and] that’s not the case,” head coach Scott Skiles said. “We’re a hustle team. We’ve got to be flying around, even if we make mistakes; we have to stay in plays. Like a lot of teams in a league, we don’t have just one guy that can bail us out of situations we get in. We’ve got to be flying around all of the time.”
The disappointing month further proved that the team may not be as close to competing for a playoff berth as initially thought. After three seasons of rebuilding, the team had shown that this season may finally be the year in which they seriously challenged for a playoff berth.
The team’s drought has dropped them to 12th in the standings, three games back of the final playoff spot in the East. But, after posting a come-from-behind win last night against the Celtics, the team is hoping the win could be the spark to getting back on the right track.
“I think it was a good way to end the month by winning,” center Nikola Vucevic said. “Now, we have to turn things around and wake up and get some wins. I know one win is not going to do anything if we go get on a losing streak, so we have to make sure that we take away stuff from tonight the way we played and finished the game. If we keep playing like that going forward, I think we’ll be in a pretty good position.”
The Magic will face an uphill battle if they want to remain in the playoff picture. February is going to be make or break for the team as they have a tough schedule against a lot of playoff teams.
Nine out of the team’s 12 games will be against teams currently in a playoff spot. Among Orlando’s games left before the All-Star break are contests against San Antonio (twice), Atlanta (twice), Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Waiting for Orlando after the All-Star break are games against the Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors. That schedule begins in San Antonio, where the Spurs have yet to lose a game this season.
“Every night we’re playing against the best players in the world,” rookie Mario Hezonja said. “[The upcoming schedule] is not affecting our mind. We know it, but we gotta focus on ourselves and do our job. We go step by step, so nothing can affect us.
“We got to keep growing up as a team and get the wins; we’re a young team. We got to outplay our enemies with our energy. We have a tough schedule, but we got to get wins. That’s the most important thing here.”
It seems clear by this point that the Magic are still a piece or two away from seriously competing in the East. The team is winless in 11 attempts against the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks.
Orlando is in a bit of a unique situation regarding the upcoming trade deadline. While it’s clear that they still need a superstar player, it’s likely that player won’t become available via trade. Equally, it doesn’t make much sense to part ways with one of their young prospects if a deal doesn’t make sense. In addition, what could the players on the team realistically yield in a trade?
It’s true that the Magic have made improvements this season, but it remains to be seen if this group can take the next step without more help. Skiles has made lineup changes, has tried tough love through the media and has benched players in an attempt to send a message and nothing has seemed to work yet.
With the upcoming schedule, the Magic are going to prove what kind of team they are by the All-Star break. At that point, the team could try to trade some of their upcoming free agents if they feel like they don’t want to retain them. Evan Fournier (restricted), Andrew Nicholson (restricted), Jason Smith and Dewayne Dedmon (restricted) will all be free agents and could be on the trading block.
This team is clearly still a work in progress, and could be much different by this summer.
Nash not Interested in Suns’ Job
Following the conclusion of a four-game road trip, the Phoenix Suns opted to fire head coach Jeff Hornacek late Sunday night upon arriving back to Phoenix.
The team will conduct several interviews today and will likely hire an interim head coach from within its staff, according to Yahoo Sports.
One candidate that has come up for a potential replacement is former Suns point guard Steve Nash. He was a target even before the firing of Hornacek and is someone the Suns have long wanted to take over the team.
Marc Stein of ESPN reported earlier today that Nash is apparently not interested in taking over the job. Instead, Nash would like to focus his time on his three young children for the time being.
Nash retired from basketball in March of last year, and has since joined the Golden State Warriors in a consultation role. His role with the Warriors calls for him to spend a few days per month with the team, according to the report.
In addition to his part-time job with the Warriors, Nash also trained with various players over the summer, including Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker.
The Suns’ decision to part ways with Hornacek didn’t seem to be all that surprising as he had been rumored to be on the hot seat for some time now. He was nearly fired back on Dec. 27, but the team opted to let two of Hornacek’s assistants go instead.
The team had hoped the changes within his staff would be enough to spark a change in the right direction. However, the team has lost 15 out of 17 games since the change and has dropped to 13th in the Western Conference – nine and a half games out of the last playoff spot.
The Suns had high hopes entering the season, and have failed to live up to expectations. Injuries have been a huge part to the team’s inconsistent play, but it became clear to the team that a change was needed.
The Suns return to action against the Toronto Raptors tomorrow night, with a replacement expected to be announced sometime before then.
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