Every game is a must win and the Orlando Magic keep finding a way

Evan Fournier improved a playmaker and driver in 2019. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Evan Fournier improved a playmaker and driver in 2019. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic continue to find ways to win and are back above the cut line. Ultimately that is all that matters as they keep striving to be better.

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford is not one to take any opponent lightly. He sat before the media as the Orlando Magic prepared to take on the lowly New York Knicks and offered a gruff assessment of his team.

In their three games against the Knicks, the team had struggled to keep them out of the paint and paraded them to the foul line. In Clifford’s estimation, the team had not played a single minute of defense against them all year.

Sure Orlando had a pair of blowout wins but their loss to New York at Madison Square Garden after the All-Star Break stands as a pretty big stain on their resume.

That could not happen now. Not with the playoff race so tight and just four games remaining on the schedule. The Magic know every win matters. And no opponent can get overlooked or taken for granted.

At this point, it does not seem to matter how they get them. Talk of whether games like this will work in the playoffs — they will not — seem irrelevant if the team does not get there.

The Magic have a standard to play to but each game works out different.

Clifford had a much different tact when talking about how his team played in an uneven 114-100 victory at the Amway Center on Wednesday.

The team struggled throughout much of the night — it was turnovers in the first quarter, fouling in the third and spurts of poor defensive play. And yet came out on the other end fine.

A statistically solid defensive effort, enough good stretches and an outburst from Terrence Ross to end the third quarter to finish the game off.

The Magic will have plenty to work on in practice before their final home game against the significantly more potent Atlanta Hawks team on Friday. But they can breathe a sigh of relief that their primary task was accomplished.

They won. And that is all the record book and the playoff chase will need to show.

"“We felt good because we won,” Evan Fournier said. “But when we go back to work tomorrow we have to look at the bigger picture. In that situation, every game you win you feel like you are going to make it. Every time you lose, it feels like the end of the world. Every game is a must win. That’s what it feels like. it’s good to be in that position once again.”"

The win for the Orlando Magic came at a huge moment. The win along with losses for the Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat brought the Eastern Conference playoff race into a bigger jumble. Most importantly for Orlando, the team climbed ahead of Miami for the final spot.

That is a comfort after the team struggled in its last three games, especially on defense.

Looking better

The Magic looked a lot better overall against the Knicks. But they needed an energetic second-quarter rally from their bench and a flamethrower final 1:05 in the third quarter from Terrence Ross to take firm control over the game.

Things seemed a bit unsettled until then. In the third quarter, the Knicks came storming back as they got to the foul line and shot 47.4 percent from the floor. They made 9 of 10 free throws and Mario Hezonja scored 12 of his 29 points.

If not for Ross, the Magic would have been in big trouble and in a fight to the end. But that is the larger point of it all. The Magic needed to reach down and find something to win and they found it.

"“Every game is going to be different,” Ross said. “We have a plan that we have to stick to no matter what or who we are playing. We know what we want to do offensively, we know what we want to do defensively. That’s the big part just to figure out how you are going to win it. Every game is going to be different.”"

Orlando knows it has to reel its defense back in and bring better intensity on that end. Especially at the start of games. Orlando still ended up with a 100.0 defensive rating. But it sure did not feel like a game the Magic would be incredibly proud of their effort.

The Magic are far from the dominant team that pushed them back into playoff contention.

So the tone after the game was decided muted. It was definitely a winning locker room, but there was no cheering or general good-naturedness, even with results falling in their favor around the league to tighten the playoff race.

This game, in particular, was a bit of a slog as the Knicks switched everything and the Magic struggled to handle that pressure. They worked the ball inside to Nikola Vucevic, who took advantage of mismatches most of the night for 29 points. But the team did not find a great rhythm overall offensively.

"“We scored 114 points out of the low post,” Clifford said. “You score 114 points most games, you are going to win. We made the right plays that have to be made. It’s choppier, it’s slower, guys don’t get into rhythm. It’s harder to play that way. In terms of how we played, that’s the way the game was. We actually played pretty well.”"

When the playoffs come around, the Magic likely will not see a team switch to the extent the Knicks did. But they will have to problem solve defenses and wrinkles and adjustments much more. The race to get into the playoffs is not a playoff series, but it certainly presents playoff challenges.

Scratching and clawing

Just to get in right now with the pressure ramped up, the Magic simply have to find a way and scratch and claw their way in no matter what it takes. The games do not have to be pretty as long as they end up on the right side of the ledger.

Ross said it best. The Magic have to win their way in. They cannot worry too much about what other teams are doing. If they take care of their own business, they will be in the field and in the playoffs next weekend.

And while they know they have a standard they need to get to — especially if they want to have a chance once they get to the postseason — they also understand they have to find a way to win. Nothing else matters without that.

The old Stan Van Gundy-ism still applies: the Magic have to learn lessons while winning.

Evan Fournier said the team feels good after a win. At this time of the year, winning breeds confidence and optimism while losing can feel like the world is crashing down. The pressure is ratcheted up that high.

But after a win, the team knows it has to get back to work and apply those lessons. This is hardly a time to rest on their laurels because things can change quickly.

"“We just have to keep focusing on the next one,” Nikola Vucevic said. “We can’t look too much ahead. There is still a lot to be played for. Things change quickly. It’s a very tight race. Obviously, we’re in a good spot. We’re right where we want to be. We can feel good about it. But we have to understand the next game is the most important.”"

Coming out on the right side every game is a day-by-day challenge. And the only focus is getting the next victory.

Next. Grades: Orlando Magic 114, New York Knicks 100. dark

Wednesday the Magic did more than enough to put one on the right side of the ledger and get one step closer to their goals.