The magic believed increased intensity throughout the season would take them from perennial finalists to possible champions, which made Monday's defeat to the Southern Steel that much more perplexing.
The Waikato-Bay of Plenty outfit are the only side in the ANZ Championship to have made the finals every year, and have twice been beaten finalists (2008 and 2010) - but have yet to win since the competition's debut in 2008. A concerted effort was made to approach training and pre-season with more intensity and hope it translated to the court but the Magic were strangely subdued in their 49-47 defeat to a Steel side that lost nine players from last season.
"That's what we have asked ourselves," skipper Laura Langman said. "We had a very quiet and low-energy game. We were really disappointed we didn't take the intensity we have had in training and pre-season into the game. There were some uncharacteristic errors. Whether mentally we weren't switched on ... we need to address that individually."
They will need to switch on quickly when they take on the Northern Mystics in Hamilton tonight. The Mystics were beaten finalists last season, have recruited well and started their season with a 51-47 defeat of a Central Pulse side that will be better than previous years under new coach Robyn Broughton.
The Mystics have added English import Jade Clarke and former Cantabrian Charlotte Kight to an already strong squad that contains the likes of Anna Scarlett, Maria Tutaia, Kayla Cullen, Cathrine Latu and Temepara George.
They have won the last two games against the Magic by one goal, including their dramatic 43-42 win in last season's preliminary final in Hamilton, and tonight's match promises to be another close one.
It's inevitable Langman and George will run into each other - probably literally - at some stage during the match. The two midcourters are two of the most dynamic in the league and a lot will come down to their transition of the ball into the shooting circle. Langman was moved from centre to wing attack in the second quarter against the Steel and it saw the Magic shooters get cleaner ball - but she is more accustomed to playing centre or wing defence.
"She's very crafty," said Langman of George, and who then unleashed a series of analogies. "She's clever Mr Fox, I like to describe her as. I will definitely have my work cut out for me. She runs that attacking end in a calm way. She's the PVA [glue] that keeps them together. You have to put your Usain Bolt shoes on to run her down."
There are so many quality match-ups in this match, it looms as a virtual Silver Ferns trial but the international season is not until September.
Latu opened her season with 33 from 34 attempts for the Mystics and Irene van Dyk nailed a perfect 30 from 30 for the Magic.
Langman referred to what it will take to win the competition as the "Big Wednesday question" as she continued her propensity for metaphors. Tonight will be the Big Sunday.By Michael Brown Email Michael