Philadelphia, PA – Just how bad has it gotten for the Orlando Magic?
Consider this -- the Philadelphia 76ers shot under 38 percent from the floor on Monday, a dismal 52.6 percent from the line and recorded their lowest point total of the season, yet the Magic were essentially run out of Wells Fargo Center until a meaningless run in garbage time saved them from the ignominy of setting a franchise low in scoring for the second time in a week.
The final score, 74-69, doesn't do justice to Orlando's offensive incompetence. The Magic trailed by 18 points and had amassed just 51 total with 2:52 left before Philadelphia took its foot off the gas.
Having to watch Orlando play basketball over the past week could turn anyone green so it was no surprise Stan Van Gundy showed up to his postgame press conference both cranky and combative.
"It's easy to come up with the reasons," Van Gundy said for his team's poor play recently. "I could be a sportswriter doing that. I don't mean that even jokingly. ... It's always easy to find the reasons. That's not hard. The hard part is to solve it. To make it better."
Playing for the sixth time in eight nights and without their starting backcourt of Jameer Nelson (concussion) and Jason Richardson (rest), the Magic probably should have been ripe for the picking but that doesn't explain scoring nine points in the third quarter on one assist and having a total of five helpers through 36 minutes of basketball.
Beat up or not, the Magic, a traditional power in the East, have forgotten how to play at the offensive end of the floor. This is a team that was once 11-4 but over the past week put up a franchise low 56 points against Boston, a dismal 67 against a terrible New Orleans team and now 69 against Philly, needing 18 in the final three minutes just to do that.
To his credit, however, Van Gundy refused to offer any excuses.
"I don't think you ever know for sure," Van Gundy said when asked what the problem is. "I would just say that the situation's exactly the same this week as it was when we were 11-4 before we started this stretch.
"That's my only point to that. ... We were 11-4 and then we lost to Boston in a really bad loss and came back with a great bounce-back effort against Indiana on the road. The situation was the same. So that becomes a real convenient excuse when things start going badly."
To outsiders, the problem seems obvious. The long-term future of Dwight Howard has to be a distraction but then again those same questions were popping up eight days ago when Orlando was still playing solid basketball.
Sixers' veterans Tony Battie and Elton Brand used smarts and guile to force the big man into a 6-for-17 shooting night on Monday, just the fourth time in his career that the superstar has taken 17-or-more shots in a game and made six-or-less.
Howard didn't receive much help either. Sharp-shooters J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu combined to shoot 4-for-22 on the night and Van Gundy readily admitted that Turkoglu "is pretty tired right now." .
"When you step on the court, you have to play," Howard said. "It doesn't matter what anybody says. This is basketball. We love this game. We're blessed. So that [distractions] should not affect you when you get on the floor. It shouldn't.
"These guys know how I feel about each and every one of them. These are my brothers regardless of what happens, and I'm going to give them 100 percent every night because I owe it to them. I owe to the city. I owe it to the team."
Of course even when things are clicking in Central Florida, Van Gundy has never been the most patient of coaches so another painful setback had him relishing a chance to take on a media he says is too quick to criticize.
In this case Van Gundy was lashing out at his local critics who complained that he kept feeding the ball to Howard early despite a 1-for-5 start.
"This is a great one because there have been so many other games where you guys have asked 'why aren't you going to Dwight?' So now he gets the ball and he takes five straight shots and he goes 1-for-5 and now its 'you're going to him too much.'
"And you know you're probably right because the teams in this league, very few of them go to their best player. Miami doesn't go to LeBron, LA doesn't go to Kobe. So yeah that was probably a mistake."
All joking aside, however, Van Gundy is facing a crisis situation. Whether D-12 was thinking about the Sixers, Brooklyn or LA on Monday, his best performance came when the WFC Kiss Cam caught him on the bench next to Redick. The superstar hammed it up and got a big ovation from the 16,000-plus in attendance.
As the game crawled toward a conclusion, the fans behind the basket nearest Orlando's bench began chanting "quitters" at Van Gundy's charges. Perhaps that's why the coach piloted his last three minutes like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Not much for a team used to handing out the beatings but at least it was a start.
"Look, if a team doesn't play hard, that's one thing, but I thought our guys competed hard tonight," Van Gundy said. "And it's my responsibility to find a way to create good shots for us, and I'm not running from that responsibility. Obviously I have not gotten that done and that's frustrating to me as a coach. My job is to get it done and get it turned around."