At the beginning of January 2016, the Orlando Magic sat fifth in the Eastern Conference. They were only three games removed from the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers. The month that followed seemed to be the undoing of the 2015-16 season for Orlando. The Magic were plagued by injuries and went 2-12 in January. They finished the month in 12th place, with their playoff hopes taking a serious blow.
In similar fashion, the Magic started this January in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Sitting just three games out of the playoff picture, Orlando had everything to play for. What happened during January has not only shaped the rest of the season for the Magic, but perhaps the future of the franchise.
The Orlando Magic’s January Struggles
The Magic began the month knowing that however it panned out, it would surely shape the remainder of their season. Holding one of the hardest schedules during the month, Orlando faced a six-game road trip, sandwiched in between games against teams such as the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, and Boston Celtics, to name a few.
The tone for the month was set in the Magic’s first four games. Going 1-3 to start January, Orlando lost in blowouts against the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks. Despite picking up a solid win against the New York Knicks and having an impressive defensive performance against the high-scoring Rockets, it was not the start to the month that the Magic had envisioned.
Six-Game Road Trip
Many fans felt going into the west coast road trip, that the period of six games would ultimately set the tone for the remainder of the Magic’s season. Beginning the trip in dismal fashion, the Magic fell to a 111-95 loss against the equally struggling Los Angeles Lakers. Whilst the Magic displayed encouraging signs against the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz, they were unable to gain victories in either game. However, upon facing the inconsistent Portland Trail Blazers, the Magic picked up their only win of the trip, a convincing 115-109 win. The success was short lived however, as the Magic were outclassed by the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans to end the trip.
Injuries a Factor
Upon the return to home court, the Magic were plagued with injuries, as shooting guards Jodie Meeks and Evan Fournier went down. After a dominant 112-96 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Magic faced their toughest challenge of the month against the Warriors. The 98-118 defeat to Golden State was further impacted by the loss of D.J. Augustin, who sustained an ankle injury during the game. With their backcourt in pieces, former fifth overall pick Mario Hezonja found an increase in minutes. The Magic also called up Anthony Brown from the D-League to fill the holes. One positive sign that came from the variety of injuries was the improved play of point guard Elfrid Payton, who averaged 14.7 points, 6.8 assists, and 4 rebounds during the month.
Consistency is Key
The Magic finished the month as inconsistent as ever. Putting on arguably its worst display of the season, Orlando was humiliated 128-98 by the Celtics. However, the Magic then grabbed a hard-fought road win against the Toronto Raptors. In a game that summarized their month, the Magic finished January with a 111-105 overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Orlando currently finds itself sitting 14th in the Eastern Conference, five games out of the playoff hunt. The team’s postseason ambitions look bleak. Despite the dismal month, the Magic’s general manager, Rob Hennigan, affirmed in a series of interviews that the aim is still to compete for a playoff birth. However, with many Magic fans favoring a rebuild and the trade deadline lurking around the corner, the future of the franchise is once again up in the air.