Brace Hammelgarn/USA TODAY
There was a bit of concern following the Magic's 120-115 loss to the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Here was a game that seemed "in the bag." A three-point lead with a few seconds left and only one stop between the team and its first victory. To fight so hard to get back into the game and have a chance to steal it and then lose it on a poor (if not controversial) defensive play, can be crushing.
This is not last year's Magic team. Even in three games, that has become pretty clear.
Instead of sulking, Orlando fought back in a major way for Friday's win over New Orleans, seemingly taking out all that anger and frustration on Orlando's next opponent. This is not a team that will spiral and dwell on mistakes. Even if it is just a little experience, the Magic clearly have experience now and they are using it to continue to grow.
"I think it says a lot about how we are more mature now," Nikola Vucevic said. "It was a tough loss in Minnesota, we could have just had our heads down. We bounced back [Friday]. The one thing I liked was we came out and played hard the first couple minutes, and we got a lead and we just kept the lead. The first two games we let the other team get like a 10-0 lead on us, and we had to start to come back. [Friday] we really jumped on them from the get go and never really gave them a chance to get back into the game."
Take Maurice Harkless for instance.
In the first two games of the season, Harkless scored only two points in the loss to the Timberwolves. He was left on the bench for the closing moments. However, in the game against the Pelicans he came ready to shoot and ready to attack. He scored 20 points, getting to the line for eight free throw attempts. He added four steals and eight rebounds.
Arron Afflalo noted after the game that the rookie Maurice Harkless might have taken that kind of performance hard and not been able to bounce back. This performance was a signal of the growth Harkless has gone through, and to some extent the rest of the team.
"Usually when we say development, everyone thinks of the physical skills on the floor whether it's free throw shooting or ball handling or jump hooks and things of that nature," Jacque Vaughn said. "But there is a mental aspect of the game also. If you can improve that part of an individual then that helps the physical. Mentally, I think [Harkless] is a stronger human being. That's where we want to get all of our guys to."
Vaughn said other players have shown that growth too, including Kyle O'Quinn who turned in a strong 6-for-8 shooting performance against the Pelicans on Friday.
Afflalo noted after the game that the growth of the young players has freed him up to be a more efficient scorer and a better player for what this team needs. Vaughn said Saturday that kind of a statement shows the incredible trust that Afflalo has put into the young players in the roster and the belief that they will do their part just as he will do his.
Nikola Vucevic said he has noticed the maturity in the team in this second year together. Orlando is showing growth on the defensive end and an understanding of what it will take to win games moving forward. Year Two for many of these players has been a very different experience already.
"It merely boils down to an understanding of the league and of the game," Vaughn said. "We're doing things differently in Year Two than we were in Year One because we coudln't do it in Year One. The understanding, the knowledge, the terminology, what's expected, those things grow as your team grows and matures. We're just at the next phase and the next step of what you expect from guys and what they demand from themselves."
The Magic's defense has improved some for sure. According to Basketball-Reference, the Magic's defense is eighth in the league this early in the season with a 101.6 defensive rating. That is nearly eight points better than the pace from last year.
Granted, it is still very early. VERY EARLY.
But this is a good and clear sign of the general improvement from the roster and the approach the team has taken.