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    Mar 2009
    Lonley Planet

    Default Magic out of tricks to end losing streak

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    The mistakes are easy to spot for the defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic, mired in an ugly three-game losing streak.

    Finding the solutions are much more difficult.

    Stan Van Gundy used the word "lifeless." Assistant coach Brendan Malone said "shell-shocked." J.J. Re**** stated bluntly, "The problem is everybody."

    Everything that was going right for the Magic this time last season -- sharp-shooting, smothering defence and endless energy -- have all disappeared. While they're just now in their longest losing streak of the year, they haven't consistently resembled anything close to an NBA finalist this season.

    "Everybody's kind of searching for these answers," Re**** said. "I don't know what the answers are. I think to a man, we all have to be better."

    This might be the lowest the Magic have felt this season.

    After a home loss to Toronto on Wednesday night in a game they trailed by 18 points, the locker-room was the most subdued it has been since they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals in June. The mere fact that Re**** was the first -- and one of the few -- players to stand up and speak for the team only highlighted how perplexing this latest slide has been.

    Many players -- including Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Matt Barnes and Jason Williams -- either left the locker-room before reporters arrived or dodged them altogether, rare for the usually calm veterans. Dwight Howard still stayed behind laughing, as usual, while texting at his locker. Jameer Nelson even cracked a few jokes with reporters.

    For Van Gundy, the losses surely sting.

    The Magic's funk reminded him of a time when he was an assistant at Fordham from 1987-88. The team was driving back to New York after a tough defeat in Philadelphia, and players in the back of the bus were laughing when another coach tried to calm Van Gundy down.

    "I was all (ticked) off," he said. "I figured he would be, too. He's a tough, real intense guy. He said, 'What is it you want them to do right now that will help us win the game we just lost?' And that has sort of stuck with me. Now, I can't do it. I can't leave and be joking around. But it's meaningless. The only thing that matters in terms of their reaction is if we gain a resolve to make changes."

    Lately, there's been none of that.

    Orlando plays at Washington on Friday searching to jumpstart its season. While the Magic (24-11) are in third place in the Eastern Conference -- exactly where they finished last regular season -- fans might never have been more disappointed with such a winning record.

    Expectations were set much higher.

    Players even touted this season as "championship or bust" in training camp. But three straight losses -- to Chicago, Indiana and Toronto -- to teams that had losing records have made that declaration seem far away. It's the first time they've lost three in a row since April 10-13, when they rested starters preparing for the playoffs.

    "I think some of those expectations are unrealistic," Re**** said. "The reality is that there's periods during an 82-game season like this where you struggle."

    Other players admit the pressure -- some self-inflicted -- is only adding to the frustration.

    "It's a little more magnified after you win something. Everything is glaring a little more right now because we're losing, and it should be," Nelson said. "That's a good pressure to have. I don't think we would take it any differently. Every team goes through it. The good teams come out on top."

    The roster has been in constant shuffle.

    After trading away starters Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston -- who filled in for an injured Nelson -- things haven't quite clicked. Carter's arrival has showed mixed results. And injuries, illnesses and Lewis' 10-game suspension haven't helped.

    "This is a different team than the team we had last season. We have to get that thought out of our minds, and everybody else has to also," Howard said. "You can't expect us to be that same Orlando Magic team."

    They sure have looked like it.

    The Magic have been slowed by turnovers and the frustration has led to excessive rants at refs and technical fouls almost every game. Shots haven't been sinking and defence has been spotty.

    Van Gundy has preached for nearly three weeks now that the lack of energy and effort are the main reasons they're falling flat. He's still waiting for that message to resonate.

    "Eventually we will decide, we will figure out that we're the ones that have to change it. That this isn't happening to us, that's it's happening because of us," Van Gundy said. "I think right now we're feeling sorry for ourselves a little bit and that's going to have to change."



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