After a 12-13 start that had many starting to believe that the Orlando Magic could contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Magic have dropped seven straight. It took more than a quarter of the season, but the youth and inexperience of the Orlando Magic is finally beginning to catch up to them along with offensive ineptitude late in contests.
The Orlando Magic are a young team and due to injury this season, have been forced to be even younger. Over the recent slide, the Magic have been without forward Glen Davis, who had been playing well prior to a shoulder injury. Another veteran forward, Hedo Turkoglu, has returned to the Orlando lineup after missing 28 games. But while Turkoglu has returned for Orlando’s last three games, point guard Jameer Nelson has missed two of them with a hip injury. Veteran forward Al Harrington has still yet to play this season due to a knee injury.
For the most part, the Magic have remained competitive during the slide. Over the seven-game stretch, the Magic have suffered a pair of two-point losses to the best two teams in the Eastern Conference over the last two years, the Chicago Bulls and defending world champion Miami Heat. Five of their losses over the stretch have come by four points or less, but five losses have also come to teams currently in last place.
The youth is showing as the Magic are not beating the teams that they should beat. Yes, teams like Washington and Toronto are teams that the Magic should beat. Orlando has accounted for a quarter of Washington and Toronto’s total wins this season which includes a 123-88 beatdown in Orlando last Saturday to the Raptors.
The Magic continue to fight and have even got great individual efforts from some of their younger players. Andrew Nicholson put up a career-high 22 points in last Saturday’s 35-point loss to Toronto. Nikola Vucevic put up a career-high 20 points and grabbed a franchise-record 29 rebounds in a 112-110 loss to the Miami Heat on New Year’s Eve.
But while some of the younger players have had good games, none have been able to hit timely shots in the final minute of so many close contests. The Magic have been closing games with a veteran lineup in, but even the veteran Orlando lineup has been largely figured out by opponents.
Teams are keying on Nelson and showing hard on the high pick-and-rolls forcing him to give the ball up. Screens for J.J. Redick out of timeouts have become predictable and teams are putting bigger, more athletic defenders on leading scorer Arron Afflalo late in games taking away his outside shot and forcing him to drive into the teeth of the defense.
While youth, inexperience and a lack of untimely baskets is catching up to the Orlando Magic, what is encouraging is the Magic’s resiliency. Aside from the thrashing at the hands of Toronto, Orlando has remained competitive. Although the Magic have been losing to the league’s worst, they have managed to still play competitive 48-minute basketball games with the league’s best. Playing close games will build character for the young Magic, but for now, the close losses are growing pains that Orlando must endure.
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