The New Orleans Hornets were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 93-67. The Magic, coming off a devastating loss against the Boston Celtics on Thursday, seemed prime for a bounce-back win against the Hornets, one of the worst teams in the NBA. Instead, Orlando played one of their worse games of the regular season and were blown out by New Orleans, a team that’s missing their best player in Eric Gordon (injured right knee). The Hornets played with a lot of energy and effort, while the Magic did not. New Orleans was led by a balanced attack, as four players scored in double-figures. Carl Landry led the way for the Hornets, putting up 17 points and six rebounds. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, while Jason Smith had 14 points and four rebounds. Jarrett Jack finished with 11 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and two steals. For Orlando, it was a lot of Dwight Howard and little else, as he put up a game-high 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field (10-of-17 from the free-throw line), 16 rebounds, three assists, and two steals. No one else for the Magic made any discernible impact on the court aside from Howard. As such, New Orleans took advantage of the situation and got a victory.
If it feels like Orlando is a sinking ship that’s about to capsize at any given moment, that’s because it is. In a span of five days, the Magic scored a franchise-low 56 points on the road against the Celtics, blew a 27-point lead at home against that very same team, and got blown out by the Hornets on the road. Each of those games were losses for Orlando and embarrassing ones at that.
For most of the season, the Magic have been able to shake through the Howard trade rumors and play basketball. Aside from a clunker in the first game against Boston, Orlando was 12-5 and playing relatively well. But it’s clear that the last two losses, including this one, have taken their toll on the Magic.
And it’s more than obvious that Orlando didn’t want to play against New Orleans in a game. From the opening tip, nearly every player for the Magic went through the motions while the Hornets tried and cared. Despite missing Ryan Anderson to a calf injury, Orlando had more than enough talent on the floor to dominate New Orleans but that didn’t happen. Instead, the Hornets went out there, played to the best of their abilities, and won. At many junctures in the game, it seemed like the Magic were inconveniencing themselves by playing.
Yes, it was that bad for Orlando.
Not only did the Magic look like a physically tired team, but emotionally too. Both of the losses against Boston were draining, sure, but it’s also clear that all the drama surrounding Howard’s future with Orlando has taken its toll. It’s hard to blame the players for the Magic to try their hardest at the behest of Howard when he doesn’t want to play alongside them. Howard is a leader without a voice.
Some Magic fans may want to point the blame at head coach Stan Van Gundy but this isn’t his fault. It isn’t his fault that Howard wants to be traded and rather be on another team. It isn’t his fault that general manager Otis Smith has turned Orlando from an elite team and championship contender to an afterthought. It isn’t his fault that he has to rely on players like Glen Davis, Chris Duhon, and others that are not good to begin with. Not only is Jason Richardson, recently re-signed to a 4-year, $25 million contract, having the worst season of his career, but so is Davis, recently signed to a 4-year, $26 million contract, Jameer Nelson (perhaps the one player that is the most affected by Howard’s trade demands and desire to play with a better point guard), and Quentin Richardson. PER isn’t the end-all, be-all stat, given that there are other linear metrics out there that can be used to quantify a player’s value, but the Magic currently have five players that have played more than 100 minutes this season with PERs under 10. For those keeping track, that’s Earl Clark, Davis, Duhon, Nelson, and Quentin Richardson. Von Wafer and Jason Richardson aren’t that much better either, with PERs under 12 (the league average is 15).
Again, PER isn’t a perfect evaluator of a player’s worth but it sheds light on the lack of talent that Van Gundy has to work with.
No, Van Gundy isn’t the problem here. The problem is that Howard wants out and the supporting cast, outside of Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu, and J.J. Redick isn’t very good.
It was just a week ago when Orlando beat the Los Angeles Lakers and everything seemed okay.
The Magic are a franchise on life support.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.