Back-to-back wins have steadied the ship and changed the mood around the Orlando Magic.
Last Friday night, the Orlando Magic fell to the Los Angeles Clippers on their own court, in what was an embarrassing 120-95 loss.
The defeat, which came on the second night of a back-to-back for the Clippers and pushed Orlando to 2-6, was their lowest point early in the campaign — not only because the Magic had lost the game, but also the manner in which they had done so.
There was no fight, no energy and a lack of urgency to do anything about what was happening. It was easy to highlight the issues the Magic were facing, mostly because there were just so many of them.
Perhaps worst of all, though, was the fact the loss felt like much of the last two seasons, when Frank Vogel was the head coach — lethargic. It was hard to see where Orlando was going to go from that point, but they have now responded brilliantly with back-to-back wins.
A few things have changed, but can more victories be built off the back of what has been a positive few days since that Clippers loss?
The first place to start is an easy one, and that is with the energy the Magic have had in their two recent results. Sunday was an admirable road win against the San Antonio Spurs, while Monday it was a close home victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Given where Orlando was less than a week ago, winning both games of a back-to-back, with the first game out west, would have been unthinkable. But the Magic did just that. While the 117-110 win against the Spurs was nice and unexpected, the 102-100 win over the Cavaliers was much more noteworthy.
This game encapsulated all that is good and bad about Orlando basketball at the moment. Leading by 11 points at halftime, only to put up 12 points in the third quarter and trail by as many as nine to a dogged Cleveland outfit pretty much summed it up.
The fourth quarter saw Evan Fournier get hot though, culminating in a buzzer-beating shot by the Frenchman to win the game. As he said himself afterwards, it should never have gotten to the point where such heroics were necessary.
The fact that Fournier knows their performance wasn’t acceptable for parts of the game is a positive, as was the improved defensive awareness both he and Terrence Ross showed at key parts of the contest — something neither player is known for.
Looking at the numbers, the Magic have a defensive rating of 105 over the last two games. That number would put them fifth in the entire league, much closer to where they want to be when the season is done.
For the 2018-19 campaign, however, Orlando currently ranks 20th in defensive rating (110.5). Two games is a tiny sample size, but for now at least the Magic are trending in the right direction. Not only has it been evident in how they’re playing on the court, but the numbers back it up too.
Offensively the Magic currently rank dead last (101.7), but over the last two games that number has shot up to 109.5, much closer to the league average of around 108.5. This came against the worst defensive team in the league (Cavaliers), and a Spurs team that is only average defensively (109.9), but you can only play what is in front of you.
One reason Orlando can point to for its improved play has to be the impact Terrence Ross is having. Now fully healthy after missing considerable time last season, he has scored 17 and 15 points in the last two games (both higher than his season average of 12.3 points per game).
The 30.5 minutes per game Ross has averaged in both of those wins are much higher than his season average as well (24.8 minutes per game). At this point, he is making a case to become a starter, although Fournier may have something to say about that.
Still, Ross is showing his worth as an offensive-minded sixth man who can help the second unit stay in the game because of his scoring. Center Mohamed Bamba is playing like a rookie usually does (with the minute restrictions to boot), but he has been nice defensively early on.
Something they can turn to on offense is their player of the season so far, Nikola Vucevic. All of these things are great, and they’re the reasons the Magic have improved recently, but the question is, can we expect it to continue?
The Magic’s next two games are at home to the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards, both of which are winnable games if Orlando plays like it has recently. After that is a trip to New York to face the Knicks, another one the Magic could win.
With Orlando 4-6 at the moment, a few more wins would change the entire feel around the franchise. Before Sunday, there was much to be worried about, from the direction of the team right down to whether hiring Clifford was a smart decision.
Although the Orlando Magic may ultimately end up in the draft lottery again by the time the season is over, a more prolonged effort at making the playoffs was expected. That looked unlikely last Friday night when they came off the court against the Clippers, but four days is a long time in the NBA. Now it is about keeping these positive vibes going for as long as possible.