By John Denton
April 12, 2017
ORLANDO – The season certainly hasn’t gone the way that the playoff-starved Orlando Magic hoped, but they still want to finish it out on a positive note tonight – both for the team and the fans at the Amway Center.
The Magic opened this season thinking that they had the talent and experience to be in the playoff chase, but that won’t happen for a myriad of reasons. At 28-53, the Magic regressed badly from last season’s 35-win total, but tonight’s finale against the Detroit Pistons at least offers them a chance to end things on a positive note.
“It’d be nice to get a win to finish the season off, especially for our fans,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, the Magic’s longest-tenured player and someone who has suffered through the past five non-playoff seasons. “They’ve been through a lot. They suffered a lot these past couple of years, so it’d be nice for them if we could get a win. It wouldn’t change much, but it’s always better to finish off with a win than a loss.’’
Anything would be better than what the Magic have offered up in their two previous games. Orlando yielded its second-highest shooting percentage of the season on Saturday in a 127-112 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Then, on Monday in Chicago, the Magic ran into a Bulls team that was in must-win mode and they paid for it with a 122-75 defeat – the worst loss in franchise history.
“Nobody likes how we played the other night in Chicago, that’s for sure. It’s been a difficult year and I want our guys to come in with positive energy, play with great intensity and try to get a win tonight,’’ said Magic head coach Frank Vogel, who vowed to open the game with the team’s usual starting five.
Orlando was especially active last summer in trying to re-tool the squad, hiring Vogel, trading for Serge Ibaka and Jodie Meeks and signing veterans Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin in free agency. However, that new mix never meshed with the returning core and the Magic slumped early and often and never made it above .500 on the season.
The fall from believing that this was the season that they would be in the playoffs and then hot having it materialize has been a difficult one for many Magic players to stomach, namely guard Evan Fournier and Vucevic.
“We had expectations for our team for the playoffs,’’ said Fournier, Orlando’s leading scorer on the season. “When it rains, it pours, man. When you expect to be good and you’re not, it’s harder than when you know you’re going to struggle to win games and you’re going to have to fight for everything. So it’s definitely the most frustrating situation I’ve been in.’’
NBA schedule-makers clearly thought that the Magic and Pistons (37-44) would be in a battle for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, hence their meeting tonight in the finale. Instead, neither will be involved in the playoffs because of their many chemistry, defense and shooting issues during the season.
Tip-time is at 8 p.m. for “Fan Appreciation Night.’’ On Wednesday morning, Vogel asked for patience and understanding from a Magic fan base that is desperate to see its team back in the hunt for a championship. The Magic made the playoff six straight years from 2007-12, but they have been on the outside of the postseason looking in now for the last five seasons.
“Bare with us. No one is more disappointed than we are in how this season went, but these things are cyclical,’’ Vogel said. “That’s proven over time that when a team is down it comes back around. The talent regenerates and you get it going in the right direction. Be patient with us because we’re very, very committed and determined to develop a winning product and culture here.’’
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