Ending a 19-game skid brings sunnier disposition to Orlando

Picked to contend, Magic had lost all since opener

Pro Basketball

December 10, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Until Monday night, the only air of joy that surrounded the Orlando Magic revolved around the March wedding of Croatian guard Gordan Giricek and the pending birth of his first child.

But then the Magic came up with another reason to smoke cigars and pop champagne corks: the end of a 19-game losing streak, as Orlando knocked off the Phoenix Suns at home, 105-98.

"You know for the first time in a long time, we have a very happy locker room," coach Johnny Davis said. "And for the first time in a long time, I can actually smile for a change. We talked earlier about drawing the line, and now we can get our season started in earnest."

Indeed, the Magic (2-19), which meets the Washington Wizards at 7 tonight at MCI Center, can be excused if it feels as though a proverbial cloud has been lifted and a monthlong rainstorm has stopped.

"We killed the streak," point guard and Tyronn Lue said. "Now we can go out and set some good records."

Orlando started the season in the minds of some as a potential Atlantic Division winner, especially after grabbing a 3-1 lead over the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring.

The Pistons came back to win the series in seven games, and while the Magic added free agents Juwan Howard and Lue - both former Wizards - the pall from the playoff collapse seemed to linger. Orlando has lost 29 of its past 31 games, including the playoffs last spring and this year's preseason.

After beating the New York Knicks in the season opener, the Magic went six weeks between wins for some obvious reasons.

Orlando is 21st in the league in scoring at just under 90 points a game, but 27th in the 29-team NBA in points allowed at 98.1. Only the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls are worse.

In addition, the Magic is last in the league in steals, meaning it gets very few transition baskets and has to rely mostly on its perimeter scoring. That's problematical, since the Magic shoots only 41 percent from the field, 25th in the NBA.

The Magic has also been hampered by injuries. Forward Pat Garrity, who averaged 11 points a game last season, has been rehabbing his injured right knee and is likely to miss all season.

Giricek missed eight games with a strained right arch and has just recently found his stroke, and the franchise continues to be haunted by the absence of forward Grant Hill, who has missed almost all of the past four years with recurring ankle problems.

And Howard, who signed a four-year contract as a free agent, has not yet panned out. His inability to play center forced second-year forward Drew Gooden, who came to Orlando with Giricek in a trade from Memphis last season, to the bench, and Gooden's play has suffered.

The losing led to finger-pointing, and many fingers pointed at superstar forward Tracy McGrady, the NBA's leading scorer last season, who was accused of not fully backing coach Doc Rivers.

McGrady, who said he supported Rivers, told the St. Petersburg Times: "After having three great years, personally, for myself, I'd have to say the fourth year has been freakin' miserable for me and my team."

Rivers, who had been named NBA Coach of the Year after his first year three seasons ago, was fired Nov. 18 when the streak was only 10 games long. He was replaced by Davis, who coached the Philadelphia 76ers in Allen Iverson's rookie year, when the Sixers went 22-60.

Despite the fifth-longest losing streak in NBA history, the Magic, amazingly, is only seven games out of eighth place in the weakened East.

Conversely, Orlando will need to win eight more games to avoid the 9-73 mark posted by the 1972-73 Sixers, the worst record in league history.

"We did not want to be recognized as the worst ever in the history of the game," Davis said Monday, "and we only had so many more shots at negating this thing. Hopefully, from this point forward, we can start a streak we can be proud of."

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