The Magic had three players facing pretty serious injuries early on this season.
Tobias Harris sprained his ankle early in the preseason. Glen Davis was still recovering from a fractured leg and foot from January. Then training camp invitee Solomon Jones went down with a torn meniscus just two games into the season.
Jacque Vaughn has been notorious for keeping injury information somewhat secretive. His typically vague answer when asked about injuries involve something about waiting for the medical staff to turn the player over to him and then evaluating when the player is truly ready to come back. The Magic, since they are playing the long-term game, are happy to let players come back at full health rather than rush them back for the promise of short-term wins.
"I would think that would be, being early in the season, the approach to let it heal fully, to let me see how it feels all the way and see when I feel like it's 100 percent to get back out there," Harris said.
It is still early in the season and there is a long marathon to go.
The second-year power forward is easy to spot and he just is a smooth offensive player. His extremely refined post game earned him the nickname "YMCA" as he had his hook shot game working and unleashed an array of post moves that, frankly, called back to a much older time.
Defenses started double teaming Nicholson knowing how efficient he was in the post.
What held Nicholson back last year -- he averaged 7.8 points per game in 16.7 minutes per game -- was his defense. While it is nice that he added a 3-point shot to his game -- he has taken 18 3-pointers in 10 games after not attempting a single one last year -- ultimately Nicholson's playing time will be determined by how he contributes on the glass and on defense.
Last year, Nicholson averaged 3.4 rebounds per game, 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and a 17.1 percent defensive rebound rate. Already this year, Nicholson is averaging 10.3 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game with per 36 averages of 18.8 points and 11.0 rebounds.
Nicholson has quite clearly improved some of the weaker points of his game while expanding his offensive repertoire -- at least a little bit, Nicholson is shooting just 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.
"When the shot is not falling, you've just got to make it up on the other end," Nicholson said. "That's basketball. I just focus on [defense] and take it one game at a time."
Always a bit deferential to the media, Nicholson said the entire team's defense has seen some major improvements and that the team will continue to grow there.
Jameer Nelson very easily could have requested a trade at any time this season or last. He signed a three-year deal with the Magic last summer knowing full well that this would be a rebuilding project. He had to know pretty clearly that he may not last the rest of the contract (much less his career).
If anything, Saturday's game would have been an opportunity for Nelson to make it known he wants a bit more when it comes to the end of his basketball career. He has gone from starting point guard on a championship contender and perennial Playoff team to aging veteran on a team in transition.
Even this early in the season, Orlando has taken action to show Nelson is no longer the future of this team. It seems his role can only diminish as the season goes on. Jacque Vaughn opted to sit Nelson for the final 17 minutes of Saturday's 108-100 loss to Dallas on Saturday. Victor Oladipo took those minutes and committed four of his nine turnovers in the fourth quarter of a close game.
Call it whatever you want, plenty of players would not be thrilled with the great Oladipo point guard experiment getting tested with a chance to win just 10 games into the season.
Not Jameer Nelson. At practice Monday, addressing the issue for the first time, Nelson offered no public anger or frustration with the coach's decision (h/t Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post):
I wanted to be on the court. Coach decided not to play me, and that's his decision. I can only play the minutes that he gives me, play them hard as I can, and leave it out there for those minutes. It's his decision who's gonna play the minutes and when they're gonna play them. It's our job as players to, like I said, play the minutes as best we can.
That is about all the response you can ask for from a professional. Nelson is not going to rock the boat or air dirty laundry. He is going to keep that stuff in house.
Nelson has always been a true professional through both the good and bad times in Orlando. This will be no different:
If they tell me they're going to trade me, what can I do? My job is to play, no matter where it is. I would love to continue to play here in Orlando and finish my career here, and see this thing turned around. That's not up to me. My job is to play.
This is just who Nelson is. So if you are looking for a controversy involving his playing time, Nelson is not going to give you one. He is just going to soldier on and do the work asked of him. That is all the Magic can ask him to do at the moment.
The Magic have been a decent surprise this season coming in at 4-6 through 10 games. That is about as good as many fans could have expected early in the season. It is hard to complain.
The only complaint that could be made is the team opting to sit Jameer Nelson in yesterday's loss to the Mavericks in favor of a struggling Victor Oladipo down the stretch. And the slow way the Magic are bringing along the injured Tobias Harris and Glen Davis.
That has opened doors for others, so to speak.
Arron Afflalo is certainly one of those as he continued his torrid offensive pace in the early part of the season. He is one of the surprises from the early season with the Magic.
Arron Afflalo has been my most surprising player. Coming into this year, we kind of expected him to follow the same road he took last year. Being force to play a lot of hero ball meaning a lot of inefficient shots and inefficient playmaking. But Afflalo's vow to come back ready to play and be an efficient leader on the floor has come true (so far). He is taking better shots -- and making them -- and is dishing the ball at a really high rate. Afflalo has developed into a strong leader in the locker room and is really leading on the floor. I have been really impressed with how he has rounded out his game this year so far.
We also discussed whether Arron Afflalo would get traded and what early season trend will prove to be a fluke.
The Magic's second-half rally fell short as they trailed the Mavericks the entire night. Eventually Orlando ran out of time. Turnovers, poor shooting and poor defense against an efficient offense doomed the Magic in a 108-100 loss at Amway Center on Saturday.
The big news coming out of the game however was the noticeable absence of Jameer Nelson from the fourth quarter. Nelson played in 22:55 of the game, scoring 15 points and having one of his better shooting performances going 6 for 11. Victor Oladipo played the entire fourth quarter and struggled with four turnovers and 1-for-4 shooting.
It was a decision that dominated the postgame press conference and chatter.
Arron Afflalo continued his torrid pace in scoring 25 points and getting to the foul line for 14 free throw attempts. Nikola Vucevic added 16 points and eight rebounds.
Dallas got 19 points from Monta Ellis (on 19 shots) and 18 each from DeJuan Blair and Dirk Nowitzki.
Turnovers continue to be an issue
Jacque Vaughn has long said that the Magic's defense is pretty good when the team is able to get set. It is when the offense creates turnovers and gives up fast break points. The Mavericks usually play at a pretty hectic pace (not so much tonight) but they carved up the Magic offensively.
So Orlando having 19 turnovers leading to 22 points does not help matters very much. Also not helping matters was Jacque Vaughn's chosen point guard for Saturday's fourth quarter was rookie Victor Oladipo and he committed four of his nine turnovers in the final 12 minutes.
That does not sound like a recipe for fixing this problem.
Why you would want to vote for the All Stars just two weeks into the season is beyond me, but you can do that now on NBA.com, by tweeting your vote with the hashtag #NBABallot. You can also vote using the NBA Game Time app.
What Magic palyers are officially on the ballot?
The NBA requires at least a few players from each team appear on the ballot. So you can easily vote for Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic.
The ballot is created before the season (so they can print them out, etc.) using a panel of media members covering the NBA regularly. Voting will continue for the next two months, concluding Jan. 20 with the starters getting announced Jan. 23. The reserves will be announced shortly afterward and then skills competitions -- including the Rising Stars Challenge where the Magic figure ot have a few representatives including Oladipo -- after that.
NBA All-Star Weekend will take place Feb. 14-16 in New Orleans.
The Magic's November was seen as a potentially light one when looking at the schedule. There were 10 home games to six road games in the month.
When your team only won 20 games last year and collected the worst record in the NBA with very little roster turnover, every win is a precious one. Considering also that the Magic, now at 4-5, are one-fifth of the way to last year's win total just two weeks into the season. Even coming off a three-game losing streak -- with a second half avalanche in a shaky 94-91 win over the Bucks -- there are still positive signs up and down the Magic's roster.
The win over the Clippers last week sits as a reminder of how good this team can become even just this year. The loss to the Celtics Monday in Boston shows how much work there is still left to go.
"Guys believed in themselves before the season," Nikola Vucevic said after the win over the Clippers last week. "We had a rough season last year. But guys put in a lot of work over the summer. In training camp, we really worked hard and we really wanted to get better and show people we are better than they think they are."
Orlando's record and the way the team has played in the early part of the season has given rise to a small belief that this season may not be a completely lost one -- if you care about wins and losses. While the goal of getting a high 2014 Draft pick makes logical sense, there is still that competitive streak in both the players and the fan base (and even management) who yearn to win.
Losing on purpose is -- and should be -- in no one's vocabulary.
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Orlando Magic basketball. The team itself will be celebrating with look backs at the team's stories history and recognition of the team's greatest players (Nick Anderson will be up next for his night Friday against the Celtics). Orlando Magic Daily loves celebrating Magic history (probably too much). And so each day this season, we will dig into Magic history a little bit and share the team's history.
Last night Arron Afflalo put on a ridiculously efficient 3-point shooting performance. He made all four of his 3-pointers from the left corner and added four more from the left wing. Six of his seven second-half 3-pointers came off of assists. It was a brilliant and excellent 3-point shooting performance that helped the Magic come from behind for a three-point win.
Afflalo's seven second-half 3-pointers were one shy of the Magic record.
In today's peak back into Magic history, we take a look at the two games where that record was set plus the ultimate in Magic 3-point performances:
Let's start with one of the more forgotten amazing Tracy McGrady performances. Why is it forgotten? Well, McGrady stubbed his toe in the second half and left with a sprained big toe. The Cavaliers came back and won the game.
Before that though, Tracy McGrady hit an incredible, and Magic record, eight 3-pointers in the first half and scored 36 points. There is no telling how much higher McGrady could have gone. He was simply crossing half court and hoisting up shots (almost literally) and making them. The Cavaliers had no answer:
Jacque Vaughn said he Arron Afflalo put in a "courages effort" on both ends of the floor in not letting the Magic lose this game. Not after the roll he had gotten on and not after the Magic worked so hard to fight their way back into the game in the second half.
Even after making five 3-pointers in the third quarter, seven 3-pointers in the second half and scoring a career-high 36 points on 11-for-15 shooting -- posting an astounding 102 percent true shooting percentage -- Afflalo still turned to his teammates to secure a then-improbable 19-point turnaround and stunning victory at Amway Center.
Jameer Nelson and Nikola Vucevic ran a pick and roll on the final possession with Orlando clinging to a one-point lead. Nelson got into the paint but saw the trees of John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo sinking in to block the shot. He dished to Maurice Harkless in the corner who dished it back to Arron Afflalo on the win.
Afflalo drove into the forest in the paint and tucked the ball around to Nikola Vucevic who jammed it home.
The game was not secure, however, until Afflalo and Maurice Harkless tipped the ball away from O.J. Mayo at the top of the key and beat him to the ball as Afflalo sent it forward into the empty back court with time expiring. The Magic prevailed 94-91 in a suddenly energized Amway Center on Wednesday night.
Afflalo set a career-high in points with 36 and fell one 3-pointer short of tying the Magic record for 3-pointers made in a half, set by Jason Richardson at Milwaukee in Feb. 2012 and by Tracy McGrady in Cleveland in Jan. 2004. Afflalo was simply unconscious taking advantage of the Bucks' defense sagging into the paint as they focused on protecting the paint with their short-handed lineup.
"I just kind of had a calming feeling. I noticed in the first half that every time Jameer got into the paint, every time that Victor got into the paint and every time Nik touched the ball, they were kind of conditioned to just sink in and help. I had a lot of open looks. Although the ball didn't find me in the first half, I knew it would be there in the second half."
Afflalo did most of his damage on those drive and kicks. Four of Afflalo's five 3-pointers in the third quarter were assisted and his two makes in the fourth quarter were also assisted. And Afflalo did all of his damage from the left corner, making all four of his 3-pointers from that spot.
Afflalo vowed to be more efficient this season, and it does not get much more efficient than that.
A week ago, the story was Orlando's defense. The Magic were riding high and relying on a newfound defensive energy and synergy to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers, slowing down their offensive juggernaut and holding them below 100 points for the first time this season (and just one of two times so far).
This was a Magic team that was defending well in the paint. They were giving up some offensive rebounds, but recovering nicely to prevent scores.
The difference between Orlando last year and Orlando this year remained the team's defensive resurgence.
A week later, the defense is the glaring weakness of a team mired in a three-game losing streak and back below .500 yet again.
"I think overall at the end of the day, the coaching staff we've looked at it, we've looked at the numbers, the amount of shots people have taken and made and the areas that we want them to take and make shots," Jacque Vaughn said. "Unfortunately, they have made shots. And that is just a part of it. Over time, if we continue to improve on what we're doing, I think we should be in good shape."
In the last three games, Orlando has given up 47.4 percent shooting and, more importantly, 124 points -- 41.3 points per game -- on 55.9 percent shooting in the paint. That includes 50 points on 25-for-33 shooting in the paint in Monday's loss to the Celtics.
The three games prior to that, Orlando was giving up 37.0 percent shooting, setting a franchise mark for consecutive games holding teams below 40 percent shooting. The Magic were giving up an average of 30.7 points per game in the paint on 38.3 percent shooting. Those are some drastically different numbers.