Something ails the Orlando Magic.
Is it fatigue created by a brutal schedule? Or is something deeper at work?
Whatever the case, the team looks awful right now.
The Magic lost for the fourth time in five games Sunday, falling 106-85 on their home floor to the Indiana Pacers. Even Orlando’s normally placid fans rained boos down on the Magic during the final period, and the crowd had plenty of reasons to feel frustrated. The defense looked uninterested at times. The offense struggled to protect the ball. And, worst of all, the Pacers flat-out outhustled the Magic.
“We’re in a real tough stretch,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We’re playing very poorly. Guys know it, and we’ve got to fight through it. I don’t know what else we can do.”
His team looks to be in freefall right now. In the last four losses, the Magic were clobbered by 31 points by the Boston Celtics, relinquished a 27-point lead to Boston, were routed by 26 by the hapless New Orleans Hornets and were annihilated by 21 by the Pacers.
Tough to believe the Magic held an 11-4 record on Jan. 20.
“I wish I could pinpoint one thing,” J.J. Redick said. “I wish that there was an algebraic equation and it had a final answer, but it doesn’t.”
Problems have arisen on all fronts.
There’s the offense. The Magic have failed to score more than 19 points in eight of their last 10 quarters of play.
There’s the defense. On Sunday, Orlando had so many defensive breakdowns that the Pacers made more than half their shots and scored 56 points in the paint.
There’s also an energy problem, and maybe that should cause more concern than anything else.
Although the Magic overcame a 15-point deficit in the second quarter to lead 51-48 at halftime, they collapsed in the third period.
“I thought that our guys came out with good energy, fought back with good energy,” Van Gundy said. “I can’t explain it coming out to start the third quarter, but we just had absolutely nothing.”
Indiana’s Danny Granger scored nine of his team-high 24 points in the third, and the Pacers made almost 64 percent of their shots.
Dwight Howard scored a team-high 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting. But he also missed 11 of his 15 free-throw attempts, and his continued struggles at the line prevent him from being a bona fide go-to guy when his teammates struggle.
And there was a lot of struggling going on.
With starting point guard Jameer Nelson out with a probable concussion, the Magic committed 19 total turnovers — 14 in the game’s first 17 minutes — and the team encounters difficulty just bringing the ball upcourt these days.
Van Gundy dismissed the notion that Howard’s uncertain future and his recent negative comments about teammates’ effort has taken a negative toll. So did Anderson.
Howard, perhaps with nothing complimentary to say, did not make himself available to reporters after Van Gundy finished his postgame press conference.
Before the season began, Howard maintained that he had suggested personnel moves to General Manager Otis Smith that were not followed. Now, an argument can be made that Smith has not surrounded Howard with the support Howard needs.
Meanwhile, Van Gundy acknowledged that he, as the team’s coach, has not snapped the team out of its funk.
“The hard part is to solve it, to make it better,” he said. “And, obviously, I have not gotten that done.”
No one has.
And there’s no solution in sight.
The Magic’s persistent cluelessness on offense does not concern Van Gundy as much as the team’s lethargy on defense. Van Gundy believes that strong defensive play stems from effort, and the Magic (12-8) simply gave up too many easy scores to the Pacers (13-6).
Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who scored only seven points, made an easy dunk off of an apparent missed defensive rotation with 4:39 left in regulation to put Indiana up 97-79.
The fans inside Amway Center started walking out in droves immediately after and booed more forcefully than they have all season.
There’s almost nothing to cheer about now.
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