Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Through the first six games of the season, the Magic have shown themselves to be a team of poles and contrasts. There have been stretches, like the comeback win over the Raptors or the second quarter in the loss against Detroit, when the Magic seem to have rediscovered the discipline, positional flexibility, and cunning that have been the hallmarks of their most successful recent teams.
At other times, though, the Magic have seemed content to allow games to be dictated to them stylistically, joylessly drifting from one contested twenty-footer to another. Watching the team struggle — both to win games and to forge an identity — it’s impossible not to notice the looming presence of fatigue.
You’re going to hear the “f” word a lot this season, which is a natural function of the compressed season and the media’s inability to use a thesaurus (see: Republican candidates’ “surges,” etc.). Of course, it’s not wrong to point out the effect that this marathon of a sprint of a season will have on players’ physically and emotionally. But in the case of the Magic, the fatigue imposed by the schedule is dwarfed by the fatigue that will come from playing through the Howard media maelstrom, as the franchise faces the risk of buckling under the tremendous weight of scrutiny they will face every night.
As other fan bases have found out all too recently, every win or loss is filtered through the context of the “will he or won’t he” game that will drive the season narrative. In a league like the NBA, where fans spend as much time cataloguing draft picks, trades and pipe dreams as they do box scores, that constant speculation has the potential to render the actual game results meaningless. The Magic are thus confronting fatigue on two different fronts, and their first games have shown how they might combat or succumb to it.