The last time Orlando faced the Charlotte Bobcats, the Magic were in the midst of their most impressive start in eight years.
The Magic (15-9) hope they can recreate some of that success Thursday when they face the lowly Bobcats (5-16) on the road.
Orlando started this season 7-3, its best start since the 1998-99 season when the team began 8-2. The Magic have struggled in recent weeks, however, failing to take advantage of a four-game home stretch and hit by injuries holding back key players.
Orlando has lost four of its five, including Wednesday’s 91-84 home loss to the Toronto Raptors. Carlos Arroyo led the team with 22 points in his first start of the season, while Dwight Howard had 17 and 13 rebounds after being held to season lows of four and three, respectively, in the team’s 103-89 loss Monday to Phoenix.
The Magic played without starters Jameer Nelson (strained groin) and Hedo Turkoglu (ankle), and lost Grant Hill after just 19 minutes when tendinitis in his left knee flared up. Hill has been ruled out of Thursday’s game.
“We had too many guys trying to win the game single-handedly instead of playing together like a team,” coach Brian Hill said. “We’ve got some injuries and the guys are probably tired, but that’s the way it goes in this league. We’ve got to play better.”
The Magic, who began December with one of the league’s top field goal percentages, have shot just 42.6 percent during their five-game slump.
“In an NBA season, there’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs,” said Keyon Dooling, who had 10 points. “You know that’s going to happen. Hopefully … we can get the whole team back and get back on track. In the meantime, we just have to hold the fort down.”
The 21-year-old Howard has been nearly impossible to stop when he plays the Bobcats, averaging 16.7 points and 15.7 rebounds in nine lifetime games against them. He has two of his five career 20-20 games against Charlotte, including 24 points and 21 boards in a 97-83 win Nov. 18 by the Magic.
Following Thursday’s game, the team returns to Orlando on Saturday to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the start of a three-game homestand.
The Magic have lost three of the last four road games against the Bobcats, who lost their fourth straight and sixth of the last seven with Wednesday’s 104-101 defeat to the Cavaliers 104-101. Rookie Adam Morison led Charlotte with 16 points, Emeka Okafor had 14 and 11 rebounds, and Brevin Knight added 14 assists, but the Bobcats were unable to complete a rally from a 13-point halftime deficit after coming as close 98-96 with 1:12 to play.
“That’s our identity. We don’t quit,” said Bobcats forward Sean May, who finished with 13 rebounds. “We put on a good showing, but man, we’d like to have that one.”
Charlotte has the worst record in the Eastern Conference and leads the Memphis Grizzlies by one-half game for the worst record in the NBA.
Okafor scored 26 points 13-for-15 shooting in the loss to the Magic this season and has averaged 16.8 points and 9.7 rebounds in six career games versus Orlando.