OAKLAND, Calif. — The Orlando Magic already have completed one-sixth of their regular season, and enough games have passed to start drawing some conclusions.
As coach Stan Van Gundy surveys his team, he sees plenty of valid reasons for concern. But even the unabashed worrier sees something that he loves about this group of players.
That intangible quality came into full focus as Orlando won all three of its games on a successful West Coast road trip, including Thursday's 117-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors. Although two of those victories came against admittedly lower-echelon teams, the Magic encountered adversity and overcame it.
"I thought it was great," Van Gundy said. "We had very good moments in every game, too, particularly on the offensive end."
Those positive moments included a performance against the tough Portland Trail Blazers in which the Magic perhaps played better on the offensive end than at any time since they clobbered the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 1, 2010.
Orlando's ball movement has improved, at least for now. Small forward Hedo Turkoglu, plagued by maddening inconsistency last season, has heightened confidence and made key clutch plays down the stretch of the wins over the Blazers and the Warriors. And the team's offense has shown admirable efficiency as a whole.
But perhaps none of that is quite as encouraging as how the team overcame Dwight Howard's foul trouble in Sacramento, a tough opponent in Portland and an early deficit and injury to Jason Richardson in Oakland.
"It means a lot," Howard said. "It's still early, but one thing that I've seen from this team is that we've been together throughout whatever's going on outside the lines. No matter what happens when we start losing games, we always find a way to stay together and stay positive."
There are reasons for concern.
On Monday at Madison Square Garden, the Magic will begin a potentially crippling stretch of three games on three consecutive days against the New York Knicks, the Charlotte Bobcats and the San Antonio Spurs. After that, a home game against the Los Angeles Lakers looms on Friday.
In all, the Magic will play 10 games in 15 days from Monday through Jan. 30, and some Magic players lamented that schedule in the postgame locker room in Oakland.
It's unclear how long Richardson will be out, if at all. According to a Magic spokesman, an MRI on Friday revealed Richardson has a bone bruise in his left knee.
Van Gundy worries about the Magic's defense, and he has valid cause for concern.
Aside from Howard, the sport's best defender, the rest of the starting lineup consists of four players who probably are below-average defensively at their positions.
"Somewhere along the line, we're going to have to get our defense cleaned up," Van Gundy said.
The team misses far too many defensive rotations, and power forward Ryan Anderson has looked overmatched against the likes of Carlos Boozer and David Lee and, of course, LaMarcus Aldridge.
Jameer Nelson's play also should concern Van Gundy, even if the coach does not say so explicitly.
For every strong stretch from the veteran point guard — Nelson hit his first seven shot attempts in Portland — there have been times when Nelson has struggled to protect the basketball, including in the final minutes against the Trail Blazers.
Nelson also has looked tentative at times.
Still, Magic players sound optimistic for now, despite all of the team's deficiencies, the road blocks on the horizon and Howard's trade request.
"I think in this league it's tough to win on the road, so certainly we can hang our hats on that," guardJ.J. Redicksaid. "This league is a lot about momentum and confidence, so this gave us a little bit of momentum going into next week."
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