PHILADELPHIA — This schedule is going to test every one of the league’s 30 teams, both mentally and physically, at one point or another. Right now, it’s the Orlando Magic’s turn.
On Monday, the Magic completed a stretch of six games in eight days, with a 74-69 defeat at the hands of the Sixers. The Magic lost five of the six games, with this one, in which they shot 33 percent from the field, being the least embarrassing of the five losses.
Of course, with Dwight Howard seeking greener pastures, the Magic have additional stress to deal with. And after watching the Magic play some awful basketball of late, it’s easy to say that Howard and his teammates are mailing it in.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy admits that he can’t fully diagnose his team’s problems, but he definitely isn’t going to worry about the Howard situation anymore than he has in the past.
“That becomes a real convenient excuse,” Van Gundy said, “when things start going badly and now you’ve lost four in a row, and all of a sudden that’s the situation. Well, was it the situation the night of the Indiana game (a 102-83 win)? Yeah, it was the same situation. So how much it’s wearing on people, I don’t know. All I know is we were able to play well in spite it before.”
Howard doesn’t believe that trade speculation should affect his team when it steps on the floor. And he certainly doesn’t feel like he’s captaining a sinking ship.
“We’re going to weather the storm,” Howard said. “We’re still a great basketball team. We’re just going through a tough stretch. That’s it. There’s no need for us to complain, point the finger, or for anybody to panic. We’re going to be fine.”
Indeed, as long as Howard is in Orlando and Van Gundy is on the bench, the Magic are a team with the ability to play at an elite level on both ends of the floor. They’re the only team that has finished in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in each of the last four years. And they’ve still got the tools to make it five.
“We’re Dwight in the low post and we’re Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu on pick-and-rolls primarily, with the floor spread out,” Van Gundy said. “And so if we’re not getting good pick-and-roll play, then we’re going to struggle. That’s who we are. Obviously, Jameer’s out (with concussion-like symptoms) and Hedo is struggling right now. He’s really struggling. And I do think with him, we’ve got a guy who’s pretty tired right now, in his case.”
Howard called out his teammates after Friday’s loss in New Orleans, but made it clear that had nothing to do with any trade request.
“It’s not the first time I called them out,” he said. “My teammates understand why I said what I said. And they all agree.
“My job is to challenge my teammates and challenge myself to go out and play every night. I’m included in everything that I say and everything that I do. My teammates understand that.”
Now that this six-game stretch is over, the Magic don’t exactly get time to rest. They’re back at home for a game against the Wizards on Wednesday and don’t have consecutive days off until the All-Star break.
It’s too early to say that the Magic’s run near the top of the Eastern Conference is done. If they can put this stretch behind them and put the speculation aside, they can still win a lot of games and compete with the best teams in the league.
But it’s also fair, given the added stress of Howard’s fluid situation, to wonder if they can really recover from such an ugly slide.