COMMENTARY | After a surprising start to the 2013-14 NBA season, the Orlando Magic had the look of a potential playoff contender in a very weak Eastern Conference.
Of late, however, the Magic have been downright dreadful losing six straight, including the last four with center Nikola Vucevic out of the lineup. While Vucevic is a solid all-around player for Orlando, his absence has been most felt on the offensive end of the floor.
The Orlando Magic will need to defeat the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night to avoid a winless six-game road trip. The Magic have fallen to 6-15 on the season and have the fourth-worst record in the entire NBA. One thing that has been certain during the Magic's skid is that they are really missing center Nik Vucevic.
Vucevic has missed four straight games with an ankle injury and with the exception of 126-125 double-overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers a week ago, the Magic have not cracked 90 points offensively.
Over the last three games, the Magic have averaged just over 85 points per game. Orlando was held to 29 points in the second half of a 121-83 loss to the lowly New York Knicks on Friday night and to just 30 points in the first half of a 94-85 defeat in Memphis on Monday. On Sunday night, Orlando was held to just 88 points against a Houston Rockets team that gives up better than 101 points per game.
Vucevic averages just shy of 15 points and 11 rebounds per game, but the Magic are missing much more than just his numbers.
Without Vucevic in the lineup, Orlando has had virtually no offense from the post. While guard Arron Afflalo has tried to fill that burden some, most of Afflalo's points come while facing the basket. The same is true for Glen Davis and Andrew Nicholson, who have each seen extended minutes with Vucevic out of the lineup. Both Davis and Nicholson are most effective in the pick-and-roll game rather than on the block.
With Vucevic out, the Magic have not only struggled to score, but their field-goal percentage has been dismal. Over the last three games, Orlando is shooting below 39 percent from the floor. Vucevic leads Orlando with a field-goal percentage of better than 54 percent for the season.
In Vucevic's absence, the Magic are also struggling get second-chance points. If healthy, Vucevic would rank fifth in the NBA in rebounding. Vucevic not only scores nearly 15 points per game, but he also keeps possessions alive with his ability to get offensive rebounds and tip misses out to teammates. In Orlando's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, the Magic managed just three offensive rebounds for the entire game and came up with only four in Friday's loss at Madison Square Garden.
Vucevic's presence on the boards however, has not been missed only the offensive end. Over the last three games, the Magic have been out-rebounded by an average of 16 boards per game. During that stretch, Orlando is allowing its opponents 12 second-chance opportunities per contest.
Since beginning the year 4-5, the Orlando Magic are just 2-10 in their 12 games and 0-4 without center Nikola Vucevic in the lineup. The NBA's second-leading rebounder a season ago, Vucevic is one of the better yet more overlooked big men in all of basketball. After missing four games with an ankle injury, Orlando is learning just how valuable Vucevic is to its team as well.
Unfortunately, for the Magic, that is proving to be a very difficult lesson.
Mike Ferguson is a Central Florida native and an Orlando Magic contributor for Yahoo Sports.
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