The Orlando Magic are defying the experts with their 6-2 start. Few could have seen the possibility of such a start coming except the players, Coach Frank Vogel and his staff.
While Orlando has played 8 games so far, three stand out as barometers for how well they are playing. On October 22, the Magic went into Cleveland and destroyed the Cavaliers, the defending Eastern Conference champs, 114-93.
Just 6 days later, they handed the perennial power San Antonio Spurs their first loss of the season, 114-87 at the Amway Center. Perhaps the best of the three came Wednesday night when they beat the Memphis Grizzlies on the road while their top two point guards were down with injuries.
Shelvin Mack was brought in to give this team some depth and defense at the guard position, but not to be the starting point guard. That will be the case for the immediate future as both Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin nurse hamstring injuries.
Mack contributed 9 points and 8 assists in relief of Augustin, who went down early in Wednesday’s game.
“Shelvin’s just a steady hand,” Vogel said in postgame comments. “He knows how to play the game. He knows how to be effective on both ends of the court.”
Playing a good team on the road minus two point guards does not usually turn out well. Throw in 24 turnovers and victory is next to impossible.
“I don’t know,” Vogel said. “That usually gets you beat. But, again, (it’s) just competing; a competitive spirit.”
The Magic’s starting unit dominated the Grizzlies starters, averaging more than a 10-point lead when they were on the floor. Still, the bench was needed to make some plays – and step into the starting point guard role – to pull out the narrow victory.
Winning close games away from home also requires making big shots. In Wednesday’s game, Evan Fournier penetrated into the lane before finding an open Aaron Gordon for the go-ahead three-pointer with under a minute left.
“There’s a lot of situations last year where we wouldn’t have won this game regardless,” Vogel said. “Our guys are just competing and believing in what we’re doing and it’s a fun thing to be a part of so far. So far, so good.”
The Chicago Bulls come to town on Friday as the Magic look to go 4-0 at home. While either Payton or Augustin will return in a few days, Mack will get the start against Chicago. Vogel is looking at his options for a backup at the point.
“We’ll just figure it out like we did (Wednesday),“ Vogel said. “Obviously Shelvin will carry the lion’s share of the load.”