5 Keys to Watch as Orlando Magic Make Playoff Push in Season's 2nd Half
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With the first half of the season in the rear-view mirror, the Orlando Magic have a lot of work to do if they want to make a playoff push.
In Jacque Vaughn's first season on the bench, the Magic have compiled a 14-28 record. The poor record doesn't reflect the decent start the Magic got off to, as they have dropped 15 of their previous 17 contests.
Injuries have played a role, with Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson all missing time due to various ailments. Al Harrington, who was acquired in the Dwight Howard mega-trade, has yet to suit up for the Magic.
As tough as it is to hear, losing is an integral part in GM Rob Hennigan's plan. The Magic are attempting to follow in the Oklahoma City Thunder's footsteps, which means losing in hopes of acquiring a lottery pick is in the cards.
Hennigan doesn't want this team to make the playoffs, as he fears falling into NBA purgatory with a completely average team with no championship ambitions.
However, if for some reason the direction the team is taking changes, the following would aid in a playoff push.
The Magic need Davis to remain healthy in the season's second half.
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First thing is first: The injured Magic players must get healthy and stay healthy for the remainder of the season.
Glen Davis, who is second on the team in scoring, missed 11 games due to a shoulder injury sustained against the Washington Wizards. Not surprisingly, the Magic only won one game without Davis' presence inside.
Without Davis, the Magic offense struggles to score even more because "Big Baby" is one of the few players on the roster who can create his own shot.
Davis is one of the most important players on the roster, as evidenced by his plus-1.3 Simple Rating via 82Games.com.
Due to a hand injury, Hedo Turkoglu has only played in six games. Basically, the Magic are playing $12 million for no production. The day Turkoglu's contract comes off the book is an enviable one.
Starting point guard Jameer Nelson has missed nine games due to a strained left calf, which forced youngster E'Twaun Moore to assume the starting role. The Magic re-signed Nelson due to his veteran leadership and have struggled to control the pace of the game when he is unavailable.
Al Harrington, whom the team was hoping to trade for future assets before the deadline, has yet to appear in a game for the Magic due to a staph infection in his surgically repaired right knee.
The Magic have one of the least talented rosters in the league and need solid contributions from everyone in their rotations in order to be competitive. Injuries put Orlando even farther behind the eight-ball, which is something they cannot afford in order to make a late-season push.
Improved Production on the Offensive End of the Court
The offense starts with Nelson.
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This one is tough because saying the Magic need to score more isn't going to make them score more. The matter of the fact is, the roster is void of go-to guys whom the team can count on for a bucket when the goings get tough.
The Magic are ranked 20th in scoring offense, averaging just 95.2 points per game.
Unfortunately, Orlando doesn't have a player who can consistently drive into the paint. This forces the Magic to settle for far too many jump shots and compromises their ability to score easy buckets.
Arron Afflalo, who leads the Magic in scoring with an average of 17 points per game, ranks just 34th overall in the league in terms of scoring.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Magic are ranked 25th in adjusted offense efficiency. Making matters worse, the Charlotte Bobcats are a spot ahead of the Magic, which speaks to Orlando's offensive ineptitude.
Improving offensively will be a gradual process that will include acquiring better personnel, as the current roster has a low ceiling.
Don't Trade Away Assets Before the Trade Deadline
If the Magic want to make a playoff push, they can't trade Redick.
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As stated earlier, the Magic need solid contributions from everyone in their rotation in order to be competitive. Thus, trading a member of the rotation should be avoided, unless it's in a move that improves the team.
Most trade rumors surround sixth man J.J Redick, as the Duke alum is lethal from behind the arc and has improved his all-around game tremendously since being drafted by the Magic way back in 2006.
There have been reports that the Boston Celtics have shown interest in Redick, as reported by ESPN's Mark Stein.
Hearing Celts, even before season-worst 7-for-32 shooting from 15+ feet in NYK loss, have ramped up their interest in Magic's J.J. Redick— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 25, 2013
According to Ric Bucher, the Magic are looking for future draft picks and a player on a rookie contract in exchange for Redick. The demand for Redick may not be big enough to warrant such a package, which could see him staying in pinstripes through the regular season.
However, if GM Rob Hennigan gets an offer he likes, he will not hesitate in shipping Redick off in order to better the future of the organization.
Any trade the Magic make would be done with an eye to the future, which would hurt their chances in making a second-half push.
Hope for Even More Development from Younger Players
Is it fair to ask more out of Harkless and the rest of the young players?
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The future success of the Orlando Magic will be dependent on the young players already on the roster and the draft picks the organization makes in coming years.
Becoming a championship contender as a small-market team is a process, one that is arduous and takes a measure of luck and patience to achieve.
In the Dwight Howard trade, the Magic acquired Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless from the Philadelphia 76ers. The front office made Andrew Nicholson the first selection of their tenure, and he has looked promising throughout his rookie season.
Vucevic has started at center in every game this season, and is averaging a double-double and a PER of 17.38, which is above the league average. In the 22-year-old European, the Magic already have their center of the future, provided he continues to add polish to his game on both ends of the court.
Harkless is very raw, as he is just 19 years old. However, he is an athletic freak that has a very high ceiling if coached properly. It's too early to call Harkless the small forward of the future, but he should get the opportunity to develop as long as the Magic don't select another small forward in the lottery in coming years.
Nicholson is averaging 7.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in just over 14 minutes of game action. GM Rob Hennigan is looking like a smart man for selecting the young man out of Saint Bonaventure, as Nicholson has the all-around game and basketball IQ to sustain a productive career.
In order for the Magic to make a late-season push, they will need even more out of their young players, which isn't realistic. Harkless and Nicholson are still too inexperienced to handle big minutes, while Vucevic has been better than expected already.
Win Close Games
Afflalo needs to be more of a factor late in the fourth quarter.
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The Magic are 3-7 in games decided by five points or less, which could be attributed to their lack of a go-to scorer in crunch time.
In games decided by six-to-10 points, the Magic are a paltry 6-13.
With their limited offense, the Magic aren't going to enjoy many blowout victories, which means they will play in quite a fair share of close games.
In order to overcome their poor start, the Magic would have to embark on a historical run encompassing a plethora of victories in hard-fought fourth quarters.
With a young roster void of a superstar, no one should expect the Magic to find poise late in games. It will take time and a few new faces before Orlando is ready to take over late in fourth quarters again, but that's just the nature of the NBA in a small market.