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“I actually think in some ways that’s really good right now because we’re going to have to play a lot better to get wins in this stretch,” Van Gundy said. “You’re not going to have anybody in these five games where you’re just going to be able to show up, play mediocre basketball and get a win. I think it forces us to really raise our level and our intensity.”

The Magic’s slide has been magnified with the rival Miami Heat and Celtics surging with winning streaks of 10 and 11 games, respectively, entering Thursday. That knocked Orlando from first to fourth place in the East behind Chicago, unfamiliar territory for a Magic that has won three straight division titles.

The Magic, for now, are trying to draw on their experience from such struggles. They went through a similar stretch in January last season when they lost seven of nine, only to rally by going 33-8 to finish with the NBA’s second-best record.

“We’ve been through it before. There’s no need to panic or worry or do anything crazy,” Howard said. “It’s only December.”