Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with a disappointing first-round loss to Indiana.
It was late March when we began to realize that something was seriously wrong with Dwight Howard. All the reports of the origins of Dwight Howard's back issues suggested that he was feeling discomfort with his back before March 30, but the flashpoint came in that defeat to the Mavericks. There, for all careful Magic fans to see, was Brendan Haywood giving a forearm shiver to Howard's lower back.
Orlando sent video of the play to NBA offices and received no penalty or comment whatsoever from the NBA office.
Howard played only two more games after that, looking clearly uncomfortable and unable to play at his best. For most of the remainder of that time in the regular season, the Magic were unsure of how long their superstar center would be out. It turned out to be indefinitely and it left a gaping hole in the Magic's lineup -- both offensively and defensively.
The team went 5-9 after that game. The Magic were hardly the same team. The defense was much worse and unable to gain any consistency. The offense was statistically better, but as we saw in the Playoffs it bogged down and became too predictable.
Still, the 5-9 record does not fully encapsulate what that team accomplished.
Throughout the entire season, it seemed Dwight Howard (or those anonymous sources, or reporters, or bloggers, or me) was suggesting throughout the season that his biggest disappointment with Otis Smith and the organization in his supporting cast. Howard seemed to want more.
Then on the other hand, he was telling the media that we all just need to believe in the group Orlando had and that it just needed to play with consistent energy. And certainly, Orlando had moments this season when it looked like the great team Howard and J.J. Redick sometimes talked about.
We did not really see that team come out though until Howard was gone and the team was forced to band together and become a truly fun team to watch.
Glen Davis was the one that came up with the calling card: We all we got. It was a line from the movie New Jack City that should be taken more for what the words mean rather than the actual context of the movie (the guy who utters the phrase gets shot almost immediately after saying it). Orlando banded together and stuck together. In the final month of the season, we saw that and the team was a joy to watch.
Gone was the team that seemed to be sleepwalking through a season of controversy and distraction. In was a team playing with energy and focus, giving it everything they had and playing for each other.
This team was not the most talented one. That is evident by the record and by the way the team struggled to play consistently in the Playoffs. But this team played far above its talent level and played hard and played together.
There was a genuine appreciation for this team. They drew comparisons to the Heart and Hustle team of 2000 and fans actually enjoyed watching this team.
You only had to look at Glen Davis' face at the end of games to know that he had given it everything he had. Davis said one of his goals this offseason is to get in good enough condition to play 40 minutes per game. That is what the Magic had to ask him to do. He did it with little complaint and decent success, seemingly validating a good chunk of his salary this year.
The Magic proved that they were a pretty close group.
And when adversity hit, they really came together. This may not have been a group that could win a championship, but it was a group fans could be proud of. They really left nothing on the floor.
Where that effort was when Howard was on the floor... that is another question. Maybe one that could have been answered if Howard had come back -- like the Philadelphia win on the road.
The end of the season though had a very positive feel to it. And it would have been tough to say that after the way it started in December and hit the peaks and valleys of this insane season. But it did.
Stan Van Gundy said after the Magic defeated the 76ers in a 113-100 win at home that if you were a Magic fan you had to enjoy the effort the team put forward to clinch the sixth seed in the East. That game was the exemplar for what that team could be. If we could box that game up and keep that as the only memory of the 2012 season, we would pretty happy as Magic fans.
"We all we got" was the rallying cry. For one month of the season, it absolutely clicked and worked as the Magic played some of their most inspired and best basketball without their star center.