Magic No Longer One Of The NBA’s Elite?

Magic No Longer One Of The NBA’s Elite?

In June of 2009, the Orlando Magic had just upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games to advance to the NBA finals for the second time in NBA history. With a then 24-year old Dwight Howard and two other younger players in the starting five (Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee), combined with versatile forward Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, it looked like this was only going to be the beginning of what would be a great run for the Orlando Magic.

During the 2009-10 season, the Magic were 59-23 for the second straight season and had home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals but fell to the Boston Celtics in six games.

During the offseason, the Magic decided to stay mostly intact, as did the Celtics. The Magic made minor moves while the Celtics didn’t spend big money but brought in some bigger names (Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Delonte West to name a few).

The Miami Heat of course, made a huge splash adding Chris Bosh and LeBron James.

The thought was the Magic and Celtics would remain two of the east’s three elite teams while the Heat replaced the Cavaliers as the third. The possibility of the Chicago Bulls, who were the eighth seed last season and added All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer to their team, of joining that club, was also there.

It’s worked out quite well for the Celtics (38-12), Heat (37-14) and Bulls (34-15), who are the top three teams in the Eastern Conference right now.

The Magic are just 32-20 and sit 5.5 games behind the Miami Heat in the Southeast division, a division Orlando has won in each of the last three seasons.

The Magic enjoyed a nine-game winning streak just after they acquired Gilbert Arenas, Earl Clark, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu and it looked like they may return to the NBA’s elite.

Instead the Magic are in the midst of a terrible stretch, winning just seven of their last 15 games. They’re now just 16-10 since the trade (the same record they had when they made the trade) and maybe even more importantly, have not beaten a team with a winning record since January 8.

Clearly they currently, they do not belong in the same category as the upper echelon of the Eastern conference.

The Magic have played both Boston and Miami within the last week and lost to both teams.

Orlando fought back and wound up only losing to the Heat by four but behind LeBron James’ 51-point game but they were down 23 at one point in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, the Magic built an early 12-2 lead against the Boston Celtics but were dominated the rest of the way en route to a 91-80 loss.

“Right now, Boston and Miami have separated themselves,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Chicago has a pretty significant advantage on us and Atlanta and New York is a little bit behind that, so there is a little separation.”

The Magic currently sit 1.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks, a team they have recently owned, including a clean sweep in the second round of the 2010 playoffs. The Hawks, however, have already beaten the Magic twice this season. The New York Knicks are five games behind the Magic and don’t appear to be in Orlando’s league but things could change if the Knicks do in fact land current Denver Nuggets wing Carmelo Anthony.

With 30 games to go, Van Gundy does appeared worried about the Magic’s current situation but isn’t ready to panic yet. In fact, he still believes his team can get where they want to be even though they look nothing like a title contender right now.

“I think that we can get there in 10 weeks, I really do, but you can’t say that right now we’re right there with those teams,” Van Gundy explained.

“I’ve always believed the saying, “You are what your record says you are” and right now that’s who were are,” Van Gundy added.

Other teams aren’t taking the Magic lightly. After Orlando’s loss to Miami Thursday, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra praised Orlando’s ability on both ends of the court.

“It’s a championship contending team,” Spoelstra said. We know what to expect. They can play on both ends of the court.”

Spoelstra went on to praise the Magic offense.

“That’s an explosive offensive team,” he said. “They have offensive firepower at virtually every position. Now they have multiple guys that can not only shoot the three but put the ball on the deck and make plays.”

Of course, this is something the Magic have been lacking. They used to have great balance behind their all-star center Dwight Howard. Lately, Howard is the only player who can get anything going on the offensive end for the Magic.

That’s a big problem and one of the biggest reasons the Magic aren’t on an elite level right now.

“I’m not down [on the team],” Van Gundy said. But we’re not with those guys right now.”

News & Notes:

  • The Magic will play host to the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night.
  • Brandon Bass will once again be out with a sprained left ankle while Daniel Orton is expected to miss at least another month after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee earlier this season.
  • For the Clippers, Eric Gordon is out with a sprained right wrist while both Chris Kaman (bone bruise/sprained left ankle) and Craig Smith (herniated disk in lower back) are out indefinitely.
  • These two teams met once this season with the Magic winning 94-85 at the Staples Center. Orlando led by as much as 26 but couldn’t step on the Clippers’ throat.
  • Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 27 points and 16 rebounds while Dwight Howard had 22 points to lead the Magic.
  • Orlando is 26-17 all time against the Clippers and is 15-6 at home.