Toughness will be Orlando Magic’s salvation from long losing streak

The Orlando Magic are looking for answers to dig themselves out of this difficult losing streak. Toughness may be the answer every player must find.

The season is still young, everyone (including myself) will tell you. The Orlando Magic are just 21 games into an 82-game odyssey. That is just a hair more than a quarter of the way through the year. There are still a lot of games to play and the Magic, according to ESPN’s RPI formula, have played the eighth most difficult schedule in the league.

Orlando is coming out of what even their coaching staff is calling a “vortex” having played eight of the last 10 games on the road. There is a belief there are better times ahead.

After Orlando’s ninth straight loss, Aaron Gordon spoke about the team’s frustration and avoiding moral victories. But he added the quip: “We’ll turn it around and go on a nine-game winning streak soon enough.”

There is plenty of talk about coming together and finding a way through this losing streak. Just snapping, it seems, might be enough to pick the team up out of this rut and get them back on the right foot.

Of course, it will take more. Pinpointing exactly what the Magic need to do to get out of this nine-game losing streak and build some momentum and wins goes a bit beyond Xs and Os. It is easy to say the team needs to improve its pick and roll coverage (it does) or play with more urgency and energy (it does).

The harder part is actually doing it. Everyone has a plan until they get punched. And right now, the biggest issue is dealing with the adversity. There is only so much the coaching staff can do to build this toughness.

Toughness comes from within each player.

“Toughness, the will to want to win — that is personal,” Jonathon Simmons said. “That is personal with every individual in here. That is nothing you can go buy. That’s personal.”

Jonathon Simmons said he would attempt to be more vocal. But ultimately each player has to be willing to take constructive criticism and turn that into action on the floor. A team that is vocal but does not actually do anything is not going to be an effective team at all.

The Magic have closed ranks a bit during this losing streak. They are trying to keep listening to the messages that are coming internally from each other and the team staff.

Simmons suggested the team needs to be more dialed in and focused. They need to redouble their efforts watching the tape and learning from their mistakes. The team has to sharpen its focus.

At the end of the day, Simmons said he feels the team has to mentally prepare itself to play at a higher level. There are no chemistry issues. When they get on the court, they take punches and do not know how to punch back.

That is where the toughness comes in. Learning how to respond sounds like a simple thing — and a recurring problem for the Magic in the last few years — but that is where Orlando is at.

“You just have to practice them and be hard on them and leave your standard at a high level,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re not content with where we’re at. Everyone is a little bit angry and a little frustrated with where we’re at. But remaining together, I feel like, and remaining confident.”

Building toughness is no easy task.

Vogel said building toughness takes hard work and “spirited, competitive practices” but a lot of it comes from within the player. It is something natural and innate. That has been what the team is trying to unlock.

Perhaps that is the biggest issue the Magic have to resolve sooner rather than later.

The Magic are not relaxing in the meantime. There is a sense of urgency and frustration and, to some extent, anger with how the team is playing. Vogel called Tuesday’s practice a good one and believed the team was bringing the right energy and approach. It just has to translate to the court.

Orlando has changed its starting lineup, inserting Jonathon Simmons for Terrence Ross. Vogel said it did seem both units were a bit refreshed from the change. Elfrid Payton agreed it might be something that wakes the team up a bit.

The team knows the spark could be right around the corner if it puts itself to action.

“We’ve just got to stay positive,” Elfrid Payton said. “Keep pushing, keep working and break through. We can look back at this later and be like, ‘Those were rough times, but look how far we came.’ That’s the common mindset we’ve got moving forward. We have to try to put it into action now.”

Time has not run out for the Magic. There seems to be some relief ahead on the schedule if Orlando can regain its confidence.

But that will not always be the case. The clock is ticking. And Orlando knows it has to rescue itself soon.

The only way to do that is to do it themselves. And that means responding back and taking the punches — displaying the toughness the team has lacked for the last three weeks.