Orlando Magic Season Review: What Went Wrong — Close Games

Feb 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles talks with Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) and Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) during second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 130-116. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles talks with Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) and Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) during second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 130-116. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic put themselves in plenty of close-game opportunities with chances to score wins. Too many times the Orlando Magic came up short.

One of the biggest thorns in the Orlando Magic’s collective side this year was an inability to close out close games.

As Dar-Wei noted earlier this week, the Magic lost 10 games this season after achieving at least an 80 percent win probability late on. Furthermore they were involved in 23 games that were decided by five points or fewer, losing 15 of them and winning just eight.

Five of these five-point games occurred in the first week or so of the season, as Orlando found itself on the receiving end of close defeats at the hands of the Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets before the 20116 campaign was truly underway.

This set a fairly negative tone, and the unfortunate trend reared its ugly head time and again during the course of the season, hampering the team’s ability to establish the kind of momentum a playoff-caliber team requires.

That said, the Magic fell nine games short of the East’s eighth seed (the 44-38 Detroit Pistons), meaning they would have needed wins from nearly all those games Dar-Wei identified just to have been in with a chance of sneaking into the playoffs.

And in reality it would have taken a minor miracle for that to have happened, as you could argue this Magic team was lucky to pick up the 35 wins it did, especially as it went 2-12 in the month of January.

Still, Orlando’s inability to get out of close games alive is an issue both players and fans were acutely aware of from the opening-day 88-87 loss to the Washington Wizards. Evan Fournier even discussed the matter in a conversation with John Denton of the Magic’s official site late last month:

"“It’s frustrating to be that close so many times, but a lot of times it just comes down to getting one more stop in the fourth quarter to get the win,” Fournier said. “We’re doing a lot of good things, but it can be frustrating to be that close (and not win). That’s just basketball, but we have to keep learning and getting better.”"

And to a certain extent he is right, as players and teams alike must learn how to close out close games, on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is in a real-game situation, as it is impossible to simulate the pressure and atmosphere of an NBA arena in the fourth quarter of a close game at practice.

The absence of an experienced veteran or two, who could have either taken the ball and made a big shot in the clutch or simply guided the team through such situations, made a huge difference too. Instead, the Magic had to turn to the likes of Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic in the clutch, all of whom struggled to provide the kind of late-game heroics the team required on a regular basis.

There were a handful of occasions when they came through, most notably Vucevic’s game winner against the Atlanta Hawks in early February:

Moments like those were few and far between though, something not helped by the fact the Magic shot just 41.4 percent from the field, 31.4 percent from three and 71 percent from the line, while committing 3.8 turnovers in the final frame of games they lost. Comparatively, those shooting numbers alone increase to 45.9 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from deep and 76.7 percent from the line in the fourth quarter of games they won.

Orlando’s problems were not necessarily all offensive though, as the team blew its share of leads during the course of the season.

Some of the most notable came against the Los Angeles Clippers in December, when the Magic gave up an 86-96 lead to lose 103-101; the Charlotte Hornets in January, when the Magic got outscored 22-3 in a seven-minute stretch in the fourth and fell in overtime; and against the San Antonio Spurs in February, when the Magic allowed their opponents to pull out a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback.

The Spurs game was especially poignant, as after Kawhi Leonard had drained a pull-up jump shot over Aaron Gordon to give San Antonio the lead, Elfrid Payton had an opportunity to level things up with 0.9 seconds left in regulation. And yet after Evan Fournier found him behind the defense with a full-court pass, Payton blew a wide-open reverse lay-up attempt, claiming after the game the ball slipped out of his hands.

This is a perfect example of how a lack of execution late in games cost the Magic time and again this season.

Scott Skiles addressed the issue as early as November in an interview with Fox Sports immediately after a loss to the Houston Rockets, but there is only so much a coach can do when it comes to late-game execution, as it is ultimately up to the players to go out and put the ball in the basket or get that all important stop.

Still, with any luck the Magic’s young core learned a thing or two about surviving close games this year and the addition of a veteran or two should ensure they fare better in such situations next season.

The Magic put themselves in these opportunities to win games more this year than they had in the past. Orlando can look back at the season and point to themselves and those squandered chances.

Undoubtedly though, the close losses are seen with a tinge of regret. The tightness and frustration the team felt late in those games a feeling they do not want to repeat next year.