Nothing Magic-al about this Orlando team

Toronto Raptors' James Johnson tries to get past Orlando Magic's Hedo Turkoglu during Sunday's game...

Toronto Raptors' James Johnson tries to get past Orlando Magic's Hedo Turkoglu during Sunday's game at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARERLLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:09 PM ET

With so much talk about the future and the uncertainty surrounding Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic is losing sight of the present.

Whether it’s getting off to a slow start against a team playing the second game in fewer than 24 hours, unable to find their man in transition, missing open threes or failing to box out, a litany of deficiencies were laid to bare Sunday.

And each time the Raptors were exposing the Magic, the credibility of Orlando being serious playoff players comes into question.

Ultimately, it’s the success of the Magic that will decide Howard’s long-term tenure in central Florida.

The clock will officially be on the franchise the moment Orlando expires from this spring’s post-season, regardless of how far the Magic advances.

Howard has seen his contemporaries jump ship when everything is explored to surround a franchise player with complementary pieces, when every stone is unturned to trigger trades, clear cap space and even then there’s no guarantee.

The one guarantee, at least based on the way Orlando approached its game versus the Raptors, is that the Magic will not go deep into the playoffs.

It’s almost as though Orlando took the game for granted and the Raptors too lightly, that it was only necessary to simply show up, control the opening tap and a win would follow.

What the Raptors proved, much like they did a night earlier in Chicago, is that they will compete and when they are allowed to get out in transition, they are dangerous.

What the Raptors continue to show is that they’re better without Andrea Bargnani because without their jump-shot-happy perimeter player, a defensive stop is more likely to happen, more players are asked to make shots and better ball movement is initiated on offence.

Even if the Raptors contemplate a trade for Bargnani, what possible piece can they attract when everyone in the NBA knows what Bargnani can do — and more importantly, what he can’t do.

Ironically, a player of Bargnani’s skill set, which is unique given his seven-foot frame, would be perfect playing alongside Howard, a presence in the paint who rebounds, blocks shots and intimidates — in other words, the embodiment of the qualities Bargnani does not have.

For Orlando, it’s of little concern debating the merits of Bargnani’s impact on the Raptors with so much more pressing concerns surrounding the Magic.

There’s health issues with Chris Duhon nursing a thumb injury, J.J. Redick sidelined with an abdominal strain and Gilbert Arenas suffering from flu-like symptoms.

Two years ago when they advanced to the NBA final, the Magic lost Hedo Turkoglu to free agency.

The club went out and traded for Vince Carter, whose playoff disappearance last spring set the stage for his exit out of town.

Turkoglu is back and Rashard Lewis was one of the centrepieces in a blockbuster with Washington that fetched Arenas, but the Magic are no closer to winning a title than it was two years ago.

By extension, it’s closer to losing Superman than ever before.

Inexcusable that a team with Howard would allow a team such as the Raptors multiple possessions.

Inexcusable that a team such as Orlando, which should be preparing for the post-season, would help breathe life into a lottery-bound team such as the Raptors.

In two weeks, the Magic will battle Atlanta in the opening round.

A year ago, Orlando swept the Hawks in the second round, a sweep that cost head coach Mike Woodson his job in Dixie.

Orlando may yet beat the Hawks, but it won’t be easy.

During the regular season, Atlanta took the series 3-1.

If Orlando prevails, Chicago would be next, a team Orlando will play later this week, a Bulls team that is 2-1 in the season series.

The Magic don’t want to talk about Howard’s pending free agency, but the more they play as poorly as they did on Sunday, the more the speculation will intensify.

“I have a whole other season left before I can decide what I want to do, so there’s no need for me to be talking about it right now,’’ Howard is often heard saying whenever Orlando plays on the road.

“It has nothing to do with my team right now, and I think the more and more you talk about it, it’s not fun. It’s not fun for me. It’s not fun for my teammates. And it’s not fun for our fans in Orlando. I think our focus should be on trying to win a championship instead of where I’m going.”

When you lose 102-98 to the Raptors, talk of championships seems pretty hollow and remote.


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