The Orlando Magic took their share of punches early in the season.
From injuries to close quarters losses to moments of deep frustration, Orlando isn’t where it wants to be, even though the team inherently knew it would be another season of learning and growing.
From the outside, at least, it looked like the team was going through the same issues they’ve had for much of the last decade. They were a talented team that underperformed and got used to losing.
For a fan base struggling to cement a future since losing its last superstar to Dwight Howard, fear of the perpetual rebuilding cycle never seems too far away.
This is how things went at the start of the season. And the external pressure seemed to be building as the team struggled to pull itself together and make the kind of progress that seemed promised in the offseason or carve out an identity for itself.
Internally, however, the Magic seemed quietly confident. They understood the work they were doing.
The Orlando Magic have had a rough start to the season. But the team slowly begins to put things in place, confirming their beliefs about what awaits this group.
Players, especially leaders like Wendell Carter, saw the forest for the trees. They took it upon themselves to carry out this task and take advantage of the immense talent they possessed.
“I feel like the sky is the limit for us” Carter said after Friday’s game. “I’m really proud of all the guys on this team and the fact that they’ve signed on. It’s easy to come into a team that has the year we had last year and become very selfish and think about getting yours. I think a lot of guys bought into the fact that we can be a very special group. We just buy it.
In other words, the team needed time to understand and get on the same page. Maybe a bad loss like Monday against the Houston Rockets brought about a resurgence of care and attention to detail. But they always knew they had it in them.
What the Orlando Magic exhibited in Friday’s 114-97 win over the Phoenix Suns was one of the first times the team could see this confirmation of their belief. It was a complete victory – an almost wire-to-wire victory.
It was a game where everyone contributed significantly throughout the roster.
Carter led the team in scoring with 20 points. Franz Wagner was once again a driving force, initiating the attack and going down to the basket for 17 points. When the Suns trapped him or pressured him off the ball, Jalen Suggs took over as the starter, rushing into the lane for his own runs to the basket for 16 points.
Bol Bol saw his score burst in the first quarter to confuse the Suns defense. Chuma Okeke again provided stellar defense for Devin Booker and hit his outside shots to keep the Suns defense honest early. Terrence Ross finished the job in the fourth quarter with a flurry of goals to reach his 14 points for the game.
Even Admiral Schofield and RJ Hampton provided critical minutes and shots late in the second quarter to keep Orlando ahead.
This is the ideal way the Magic wants to play.
“I loved our ability to do that in committee,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday’s game. “We have been talking about it since the beginning of the year. Guys ready to step in and when their number is called they are ready to go.
“Talking in the locker room, guys are talking about going for the rim. I think we’re going to continue to focus on winning quarters, winning possessions. As you add these things together, you get those results in the end that you strive for. These are the smaller games you want to end up dominating.
Everything worked. The Magic want to be a committee team with everyone able to score binges like they did on Friday. But it was more the poise and confidence with which the team played that finished the job.
With the Magic led by six to open the second half, the Suns didn’t come close the rest of the way. They reduced their lead to nine times in the fourth quarter. It was total dominance, a team that played with such supreme confidence that the team’s previous problems closing games were clearly put aside.
The team’s struggles to start the season might have been enough to shatter a young team and lose faith in what they’re doing. Faith can be scarce without results. Especially at the start of a learning season.
But the team clearly stuck with things. And when they click, they click. The team begins to tie everything together and find the consistency that the team lacked.
It’s an honor for the coaching staff to keep the belief alive and to point out the good things the team was building. It is also the merit of the players to stick to it and to have confidence in what they were building.
This faith never wavered. And while this is just a sample of two games – and there’s sure to be more trouble to come, especially as the team reinstate injured players and hit the road again next week – there is clearly something the team can work on and build on.
“We’re definitely building on the last part of the season last year where we were starting to figure out how to string games together,” Terrence Ross said after Friday’s win. “We kind of built on that over the summer. Right now it’s paying off. I know sometimes the season is long and you lose a few here or there. But I think we have a good mentality of staying focused, one day at a time and being ready. We build on it.
Just as the team knows they couldn’t get too low with some of the early season frustrations, the team can’t be too high on these recent successes and how they’ve found themselves a little behind. the House. The team still needs to keep improving. There will be greater challenges ahead.
The team will have to rely on that feeling and those moments to remember to stay tied and dominate the singles as Mosley says – win every possession and move forward. Ross said the Magic just have to remember to do what they have to do to win and stay the course, regardless of the deficit they’re facing or the situation in the game.
Finding that composure will likely be the biggest battle this season.
But in a frustrating first season, Orlando needed to see confirmation of the team’s faith in itself. You had to see what the team looks like when everything is clicking on all cylinders.
“No matter what the game looks like, we have a way of playing and when we play that way it gives us the best chance of winning,” Ross said after Friday’s win. “Just repeat that and remind them once we start playing the right way, those wins will start to snowball. You can see a bit of that right now. They start to believe it.”
When the Magic inevitably encountered another difficult period. It’s the game that proves the team is going in the right direction and building something.
This is the confirmation the team has been waiting for to build on.