Despite crushing a reeling Indiana Pacers team (that had been blown out in Miami the night before), the Orlando Magic’s status as an elite team is still very much in jeopardy and murky at best. It takes road trips like the one the Magic just completed (at Sacramento, Denver, Portland and Los Angeles Lakers) to really gauge the progress of teams so far this season, especially because the NBA has just passed the halfway point. While last year the Magic enjoyed one of the best road records in the NBA and beat a lot of good teams on the road en route, including all four aforementioned teams, they have thus far struggled to meet or even come close to the expectations thrust upon them after last year’s Finals run.
In losing to the Nuggets, the Trailblazers and the Lakers the Magic have undoubtedly clouded their status as an elite team and eliminated their status as a great road team. There are many factors which seem to have precipitated this change, one of the most obviously being the departure of Hedo Turkoglu. The unorthodox matchups created by Turkoglu as well as the good decision making he showed seemed to stabilize the team when they couldn’t seem to get Dwight going. Also Turkoglu’s unselfishness meant that Rashard Lewis, probably the Magic’s most versatile offensive weapon, was able to be more integrated and be utilized to a fuller degree. Despite what he did for the offense, it remains to be seen whether Turkoglu is worth his price tag.
Hedo Turkoglu’s exodus to Toronto was obviously covered by General Manager Otis Smith with the acquisition of Vince Carter, a superstar who has never been on a championship-caliber team. With Carter though, a playmaker that consistently needs the ball in his hands to be effective, the Magic have struggled to find an identity. At times it seems as if Dwight Howard is forgotten and we are trying too hard to get Carter his shots. Unless Carter is penetrating, which he has done less this year than ever before, the result is a stagnant offense with 4 players standing around watching Vince.
If Orlando hopes to reach and win the NBA Finals this year, they have to find their identity, and fast. Frustrations on offense has led to defenses lapses and vice versa so while it is easy to point to one aspect of the game or the other, the bottom line is the Magic lack chemistry and they should have started to click by the midway point of the season. As we saw in the first half of the game against the Pacers last night (and all throughout last year), defensive cohesion will result in fast break points and a more free-flowing offense while offensive cohesion will prevent opponents from getting those same opportunities. Execution on both ends of the court will likely allow the superior talent of the players on the Magic to elevate Orlando back to its perch among the elite.