Orlando Magic’s grip is slipping as they still figure out where they stack up in NBA

The Orlando Magic got to see how they measured up against the Golden State Warriors. They aren’t that good and their flaws are becoming more apparent.

Golden State Warriors
Orlando Magic

Everyone is still trying to figure out just how real this start for the Orlando Magic might be.

The team is off to an  8-6 start. But the luster is starting to wear off. The Magic are starting to come back to earth. And now the team has to find its rhythm again. Or at least find a way to respond to losses to stick to being .500.

During this West Coast road trip, the Magic are beginning to settle into the team they will be for the rest of the season. And figuring out how they will need to respond.

Like the game against the Boston Celtics a week ago, a team playing at a high level and likely playing for a championship come May, Monday’s game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena was a bit of a measuring stick.

Not a final say of who this Magic team is, but a chance to see this team go up against the best their schedule has offered so far.

Like that loss to the Celtics, the Magic are not in that championship class. Against these elite teams beginning to figure themselves out — whatever injuries and shortcomings they might have been facing that specific day — the Magic had a chance to test their principles.

Orlando struggled in that loss to Boston. Playing without Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin, the Magic looked lost. They struggled and had to force things offensively unable to get things moving. Their defense kept them in it as long as they could, but their frustration got the best of them. Eventually, the Celtics rolled to an easy victory.

The Warriors seemed set to do the same.

Orlando had a strong game plan. The Magic were far from perfect in the first half with their heavy switching scheme. It always felt like the Warriors were about to let the floodgates rush out. But the Magic kept up offensively and forced enough turnovers and stops to stay in the game. They were able to get into the paint and move the ball for open shots.

Tied at 56 at the half, the Magic needed to make some adjustments. But they were taking advantage of the opportunity.

Then the bottom dropped out.

Orlando missed open shots early in the quarter. Golden State hit its shots — contested or not. The flood was not as devastating as it can be when Stephen Curry is in the game. The Warriors’ avalanche topped off in the third quarter at 17 or 18 points. But the Magic hung tough in the game. Long enough to keep things interesting.

But the run never came and the Warriors’ flood did.

In the fourth quarter, as the Warriors put their starters back in, Kevin Durant led the onslaught that brought deficit out to 20 points and had Frank Vogel scrambling for his bench.

The Magic do not measure up to the Warriors. Not in any way. That part is not breaking news.

Vogel said after the game the Magic simply did not execute their gameplan well. He did not feel they did well in the first half, in fact. But Orlando remained in the game. Their offense is powerful enough when run well to keep up with anyone. And it energizes their defense.

What is becoming clear is what happens when the Magic’s offense does not work. And that is happening more frequently as the Magic begin to fall back in the rankings — now ninth in the league. Orlando is coming back down to earth.

Like the Celtics, the Warriors feature a strong defense. And the two best defenses the Magic have faced have completely shut down Orlando’s offense. At least long enough to take the lead and put a stranglehold on it.

In Monday’s game against the Warriors, the Magic posted a lowly 97.2 offensive rating. In the second half, it was limited to 86.5 in the second half. The Warriors switched everything and denied any off ball actions. The Magic were unable to break down the defense and the ball stopped.

Everyone could notice the Magic trying to go at it alone and break down the defense on their own. This is a common trap the Magic fall into. It is the trap Golden State laid perfectly for Orlando.

Executing that kind of defense is proving difficult around the league. The Magic generally are able to crack that nut and make enough shots to succeed on offense. Orlando may be falling to a mean, but the team is not going to shoot 10 for 32 from beyond the arc. Particularly some of the good looks the team missed early in the third quarter.

The Magic certainly settled when things got rough, they went quickly through their offense and took the first quasi-open 3-pointer they could get. Orlando has a habit of forcing play off the dribble and settling for 3-pointers when they face these moments of struggle.

And when the shots do not fall, the frustration becomes obvious on defense. The Magic lose their flow and rhythm on that end. The intensity drops and teams are able to score more easily. Orlando’s defense is far from consistent.

Those moments have been few and far between to this point this season. But they are becoming more frequent. The Magic have now lost four of the past six games. They are indeed starting to fall off their torrid pace from early in the season. They are becoming, at least in part, the team everyone thought they were at the beginning of the season.

Or, maybe better, they are becoming a .500 team.

Orlando has flaws. That was always clear even as the team was winning. The Magic were able to cover up those weaknesses. And that was part of their strength.

After the game Monday, Vogel was sure to point out he believes in this team and their resiliency. Orlando has shown no reason not to believe in that.

But the team’s flaws on offense are starting to appear more and more. Patterns and habits are beginning to emerge. The wins are slowing down.

The Magic did not measure up against the Warriors. They probably never had a chance to do so.

But they are still searching for their place in the Eastern Conference landscape. And the loss to the Warriors continued a pattern that shows their grip is slipping. Orlando still has plenty of work to do.