Hitting The Road

Good teams make a habit of winning games on the road.

As of late, nothing has been more difficult than being successful on a west coast trip.

Despite the Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics putting up a 50-win season in each of the last four seasons, the Western Conference has been the dominate conference. In fact, last season, all eight Western Conference playoff teams that made the playoffs won at least 50 games.

Despite all of that, the Magic have been pretty successful on west coast road trips under Head Coach Stan Van Gundy. They’ve gone 16-10 during West coast road trips, posted three four-win trips, one .500 trip and two 1-3 trips.

It’s no coincidence that Orlando’s best season in terms of Western Conference road trips came during the 2008-09 when they went a combined 8-1 on their two trips. Not only were the Magic able to close both the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics on the road but they advanced to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history and won a game in the Finals for the first time in franchise history.

The Magic had to overcome so much adversity during that run – they lost their All-Star point guard, Jameer Nelson, midway through the season and he didn’t return until the NBA finals, when he obviously was not 100% and extremely rusty. They were beaten on buzzer beaters four different times during the postseason. They had to close out the 76ers on the road while Dwight Howard served a suspension for elbowing 76ers center Samuel Dalembert. Howard also injured Orlando’s starting shooting guard, Courtney Lee and they were forced to play three postseason games without him.

But they never lost confidence.

Winning games gives a team confidence and something they can look back upon later in the season and possibly even in the postseason.

Last season, when the Magic dropped the first two games of the Eastern Conference and were soon eliminated by the Boston Celtics in six games, the Magic were just 3-5 during their two west coast road trips.

The Magic will start their road trip in Portland against the Trail Blazers Thursday night. They’ll be in Utah to face the Jazz on Friday and in Los Angeles to play the Clippers Sunday. They’ll end the trip in Denver against the Nuggets Tuesday night. Three of those teams made the postseason last year and the Jazz have already defeated the Magic in Orlando this season. Denver has been a house of horrors as of late for the Magic, which includes last season’s 115-97 beatdown.

Obviously, there is nothing easy about a lengthy trip, especially with the “Magic flu” as some of the media has named it, going around the Orlando locker room.

“It’s tough, but we can’t make excuses,” said Magic guard Vince Carter. “Other teams go through the same thing.”

Several of the Magic players made a note of saying once you win the first game of a road trip, it gets much easier, making Thursday’s game against the Trail Blazers the most important in their eyes.

“It’s just one game at a time, you can’t look down the line, you can’t schedule watch,” Carter explained. “I’m not a big schedule watcher, you just go take care of the first one and move on from there.”

While most Magic players seem to agree with Carter, Howard downplayed the importance of any specific trip.

“I just think it’s the next few games. We don’t care about west coast trips or east coast trips to see where we’re at,” Howard explained.  “We have to do that every night. If we want to be a great team then the teams we’re supposed to beat, we should beat them. And we play against those great teams, we have to bring our A-game and beat those guys also. Any game we play is a test for us because we plan to be a Championship team.”

If Howard and the Magic are serious about being a championship team, they need to be able to win games against good teams in hostile environments.

And they’ll have plenty of practice this week.

News & Notes

  • Orlando was 5-4 on west coast road trips during Van Gundy’s first season. The Magic defeated the Toronto Raptors four-games-to-one in the first round of the 2008 postseason before being eliminated four-games-to-one by the Detroit Pistons in the second round.
  • Under Van Gundy, the Magic are 85-47 on the road.
  • In the five seasons prior to Van Gundy arriving, the Magic went just 63-142 on the road.
  • In fact, Van Gundy posted the three best road records in Magic history (27-14 in ’08-’09 and ’07-’08 and 25-16 last season). They’re 6-3 on the road this season.
  • He’s 11-13 in the postseason and 25-20 in the postseason overall.
  • Van Gundy is 185-82 overall in Orlando.
  • The Magic are 1-1 against the Northwest division, 1-0 against the Pacific division.
  • Ryan Anderson is officially out with a sprained right knee while Jameer Nelson is still listed as “day-to-day” with a stomach virus. However, he is expected to play Thursday night.
  • The Magic recorded their 69th consecutive sellout against the Atlanta Hawks on December 6th.