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How did we get here?
It’s a question every Magic fan has to ask as Orlando limps into the playoffs and is slated to win one, maybe two games in the opening round before yet again bowing out to a superior team.
Dissecting an entire season, especially a season filled with such mind-boggling drama, is a daunting task. But one advantage in the case of the Orlando Magic is the clearly defined events that have shaped a season that started with hope and ended in despair, frustration, and turmoil. At the center of these events is Dwight Howard, who played the hero, the grumpy child, the spoiled brat, and the villain all in one short season.
Like every story, barring a few by Christopher Nolan, this one starts at the beginning.
When the lockout ended, Magic fans braced themselves for what was going to potentially be a painful season or at least a confusing one. With the lack of scoring power behind Dwight Howard and the unavoidable truth that Dwight could be playing his last game in a Magic uniform sometime this season, it was anyone’s guess how things would play out.
The opening stretch was pleasantly surprising, if not a little perplexing. After a season-opening barnburner loss against Oklahoma City, Orlando went on to boast a 12-5 record through January 24. The problem, of course, was that there weren’t many quality wins in that stretch. So everyone with a finger on the pulse was wary and predicted the worst was still to come. At the same time, though, the hot start was somewhat unexpected and certainly cause for a welcomed, albeit brief, sigh of relief.
It was not hard to predict what happened next. Through the end of February, Orlando regressed to the mean, going 11-8 after their hot start, bringing their record to a more realistic 23-13. This was not to say that all was lost for the Magic. Quite the opposite actually. But analysts started looking for people to blame and talking about teams Orlando probably couldn’t beat in the playoffs. You’d be a fool to have pointed the finger at Dwight at this point. With the trade deadline still ways away, Dwight was getting his numbers and posting big double-doubles whether Orlando was winning or losing.
At this point, Orlando — for the most part — was still in love with Dwight and praying that he would stay.