The Orlando Magic get set to take the court for the first time in nearly a week on Tuesday night at home against the Charlotte Bobcats. A long break was much needed for the Magic after what has been a tough start to the post-Dwight Howard, post-Stan Van Gundy era. At 15-37, Orlando isn’t where it wanted to be at the All-Star break, but the Magic are where many expected them to be.
The season actually started pretty well for Orlando as the Magic were at one point 12-13. But an excruciatingly long dry spell had Orlando with the second worst record in the Eastern Conference at the break. On the eve of the All-Star break, insult was added to injury as Orlando forward Hedo Turkoglu was suspended 20 games for taking performance-enhancing drugs in his native Turkey. Nevertheless, take a look back at the highs and lows for the Orlando Magic, the surprises and disappointments and the top individual performances from before the break:
While the Orlando Magic have been one of the worst teams in the NBA, Orlando did go 2-0 in the city of Los Angeles. On January 12th, the Orlando Magic overcame a pair of 13-point deficits to top a Los Angeles Clippers team that at the time was tied for the best record in the NBA. The 104-101 victory snapped a 10-game losing streak for the Magic. But the ultimate highlight of the first half came on December 2nd when the Magic defeated the Los Angeles Lakers and familiar face Dwight Howard by a score of 113-103. The Magic trailed heading to the fourth quarter, but while Howard was clanking free throws in the final period, Howard’s Orlando replacement, Nikola Vucevic, scored 11 points in the quarter. Jameer Nelson, who was left unmentioned last season as Howard spoke of all the great point guards in the NBA that would be “fun to play with” scored eight points which included a pair of daggerous three-pointers and dished out six assists in the final quarter. L.A. native Arron Afflalo, who was acquired in the Howard deal, also scored seven in the quarter for Orlando as the Magic downed the Lakers in the first match-up against their former superstar center.
As far as lowlights go, there were plenty for the Magic in the first half. Orlando limped into the All-Star break as losers in 24 of 27 games. The first half for Orlando saw not one, but two losing streaks of at least 10 games. During those stretches, the Magic had six losses by three points or less. Conversely, the Magic also took beatings from a couple of the NBA’s lesser teams in Toronto and Washington by 35 and 29 points.
Without a doubt, the biggest surprise for Orlando in the first half was Nikola Vucevic. The Magic knew the 22-year-old Swiss center had talent, but Vucevic has already blossomed into one of the premier centers in the East. Vucevic played in every game averaging 12.4 points and 11.5 rebounds-per-game which is fourth in the NBA while shooting 52 percent from the field. Vucevic had 29 double-doubles which included a 20-point, and franchise record 29-rebound effort in an overtime loss to the defending champion Miami Heat on New Year’s Eve.
The biggest disappointment in the first half for Orlando may very well have been the injuries to the veterans. The younger players having to play bigger roles may pay dividends for Orlando in the future, but the Magic’s initial slide began when forward Glen Davis went down with a shoulder injury. Without Davis in the lineup, Orlando has gone just 2-16. Davis may be done for the season with a foot injury, but other veterans have missed time as well to injury. Davis, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo, and Hedo Turkoglu have combined to miss 80 games. It’s unclear whether Orlando’s record would be that much better, but there have been times this season where a lack of veteran leadership has been evident.
The top performance of the first half for Orlando was without a doubt Nikola Vucevic’s effort against the Miami Heat on New Year’s Eve. Vucevic scored what at the time was a career-high 20 points and ripped down a career-high and Magic franchise record 29 rebounds. The Magic pushed the defending champs to overtime, but eventually fell 112-110.
While Vucevic’s franchise record 29 rebounds against Miami was very impressive, Jameer Nelson broke a franchise record that simply could not be accomplished in 48 minutes or in Vucevic’s case, 53 minutes of basketball. In a 125-119 overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on January 7th, Nelson surpassed Scott Skiles as the team’s all-time leader in assists. Nelson broke the record in the first quarter on a dish to rookie Andrew Nicholson for a dunk. Despite being 31 years old, Nelson is averaging the second highest scoring average of his career while averaging career-bests in minutes played, assists, steals and free throw percentage. His 7.4 assists-per-game average is currently tied for eighth in the NBA.
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