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Magic still feeling the reality of growing pains

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It has been a week of ups and downs for the Orlando Magic. Following a three-game winnings streak that saw them even their record at 3-3, they have now lost their last two games by big margins, including Wednesday night’s 123-107 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

This begs the obvious question: can this team display sufficient mental toughness to match the obvious physical talents needed to be a playoff contender?

After their Monday night humiliation in Chicago, it was reasonable to expect the Magic to come out on Wednesday ready to put that debacle behind them. They were playing at home against a team that was 1-5, winless on the road, and tired from having played the night before in Brooklyn.

Instead, the Magic were steamrolled early and trailed at halftime, 74-47. If they did not feel bad enough, they were serenaded by some boos as they left the court after 24 minutes.

A mini-run to briefly get the deficit to 11 points in the fourth quarter did not satisfy the fans or Magic Coach Frank Vogel.

“(Minnesota) was more upset with their 1-5 start than we were with our loss to the Bulls the other night,” he said after the game. “They had more desperation and urgency and that’s disappointing.”

Some vocal leadership on the court, together with some soul-searching in the locker room, would be helpful to a team still looking to find their way. There are some players who prefer to let their play and hustle speak for itself.

Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton have given the Magic solid guard play. Nikola Vucevic has had some good games and some not so great. Bismack Biyombo has been the kind of high-energy player the Magic expected.

Scoring is one thing, but basketball has two hoops and the job of keeping it out of the other basket is just as important as putting it into yours. When the Oklahoma City version of Serge Ibaka shows up every night, the Magic will be a better team, especially on the defensive end.

It is encouraging to hear Aaron Gordon has set a goal of becoming defensive player of the year. A guy as athletic as Gordon could be a tremendous defensive player.

“Frank (Vogel) can put me on whoever, I’m ready for that challenge,” Gordon told Pure Magic.

That is the kind of attitude that brings a team together. It needs to be infectious.

“We’ve got a good basketball team that hasn’t figured it out yet,” said Vogel. “We have high character guys, but the margin for error is slim. If we’re going to be outworked with effort, concentration, focus, and attention to detail, we’re going to see more of what we saw (Wednesday).”

The next benchmark of the development process comes in the next three games beginning Friday night at the Amway Center when the 5-4 Utah Jazz come to town. The Jazz are 3-3 on the road, including a win at San Antonio.

On Sunday, the Magic will see old friend Victor Oladipo when they visit Oklahoma City. Those fans will likely give Ibaka a warm welcome upon his return.

After that game, Orlando will them fly to Indianapolis to face the Pacers, whose fans will also give a warm greeting to Vogel, who spent many successful years on the Indiana bench. Hopefully, they will have the extra incentive to win one for their coach

As the growing pains continue, we will know if the Magic are growing as a team by the end of next week.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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