After what has been for the most part a poor season for the Orlando Magic, over the course of the last week something amazing has happened. The team has been winning some games, but it goes way beyond that. Orlando have been winning games at a time when most assumed it was entering a particularly rough portion of their schedule, which makes victory all the more sweeter. The fact that two of the wins game against teams who could very well meet each other in the NBA Finals this summer also tells you just how big these victories were. Throw in the fact that it will do the young players the world of good in terms of their confidence, and this is pretty much as good as the season has gotten from this team. A couple of factors contributed to this nice little run, each as important as the other, with potentially the foundation for success being laid in the process.
First off, the Amway Center. This may appear a peculiar place to begin, but the home of the Magic has been vitally important during these recent winning ways. The team has not even been a resident for four years in this state of the art venue, and so historic moments and indeed even that home feeling have been hard to come by for the team. Of course the plan all along had been to move into this amazing arena with superstar Dwight Howard anchoring the middle for the team as they pursuit NBA crowns, but this vision never came to be. As a result, all the fans have ever seen on this basketball court is a mediocre team playing mostly mediocre basketball. Games are hardly sellouts and with good reason, but this has left a kind of a haunted feel to what should be one of the jewels in the Magic’s crown. Instead a gloomy cloud has hung over the place since it opened, but that could be about to change. Amway Center is hardly a fortress in the way home court can be for teams like the Denver Nuggets or Oklahoma City Thunder, with visiting teams rarely escaping with the win. But the Magic have currently won five in a row at home, and this is the first time this has happened in two years. Even better, the victories have come against, in this order, the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers. Yes the Lakers and Bucks are bad and the Pistons in turmoil, but beating the Thunder and Pacers in back-to-back games is extremely impressive and both games highlighted all of the great things this team are about. On top of that, it will have given the team belief that opposing teams who come into their home will have their work cut out trying to win the game. In turn this will attract more fans and breed confidence, two elements which create a winning atmosphere which all great teams have.
If the team as a whole has been playing great recently, and they have, well then Sunday’s victory over the Pacers will have served as a coming out party of sorts for rookie Victor Oladipo in particular. Before admiring what he was doing however, it is worth also noting that Arron Afflalo, having a career year, has been magnificent during this stretch as well, coming up with crucial assists, 3-pointers and key plays in general against these top teams. Reserve center Kyle O’Quinn has also had his moments too, bringing a raw energy when on the court that the team have been feeding off of. Nikola Vucevic has also been big since his return from injury, and against the Pacers he had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Oladipo, however, was the instigator in that particular win. Playing the entire fourth quarter against both the Thunder and Pacers, the former Indiana Hoosier had 23 points against the Pacers, with 13 coming in the final quarter. More than that, he went toe to toe with All-Star Paul George, who himself had a big game after struggling recently for form. Although George had the better individual night, it was the assured and athletic display from Oladipo that saw his team over the line. He may have recently fallen behind both Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke for Rookie of the Year honors, but the last week has improved his case to win the award massively. It also served as a potential glimpse to the future and what Oladipo can bring on a near nightly basis, and it would have excited every Magic fan who watched the game.
Beyond the stats, the hustle and defensive intensity have been at a season high these past two games, and the team look a completely different outfit to the loose and defensively sloppy one that got picked apart by the Boston Celtics on Super Bowl Sunday. It would seem there is finally some momentum around the team now, and going into Wednesday’s game with the Memphis Grizzlies, who will bring their own unique challenges to the Amway Center, it is important to at least make life difficult for their opponents. Recent play would suggest Orlando feel this is a game they can win though, so don’t be surprised if this happens. With a mostly healthy roster and young players beginning to play more consistently, now has never been a better time to tune in and watch a Magic game. They may be lottery bound but they are not done winning games and causing upsets yet.